Lately, there seems to be a lot of shows where family members battle each other for control of an empire, whether the patriarch or matriarch that created is alive, dead or somewhere in between. It’s been mostly an American phenomenon, but the U.K. isn’t immune to such soapiness, as a new Prime Video series demonstrates.
RICHES: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: Scenes of downtown London. As we sweep through, we see ads for Flair & Glory, a family-owned company that creates hair products for Black women.
The Gist: Stephen Richards (Hugh Quarshie) is talking to a reporter about F&G, which has become an empire despite the UK’s institutional racism and other long odds. When the reporter brings up Stephen’s adult children from his first marriage, though, Stephen refuses to answer.
In New York, Nina Richards (Deborah Ayorinde) is being celebrated at her marketing firm, having just gotten a promotion to vice president. She gets a mysterious call and is angry to hear Stephen’s voice on the other end; he abandoned her family — her mother Oyin (Jumoke Fashola) and brother Simon (Emmanuel Imani) — 30 years ago, and she has no desire to talk to him.
Shortly after the call, Stephen has a stroke and collapses. As he lays dying in the hospital, his current wife Claudia (Sarah Niles) screaming at everyone, his other three kids — Alesha (Adeyinka Akinrinade), heir apparent Gus (Ola Orebiyi) and Wanda (Nneka Okoye) — each have their own reactions. Alesha turns off the phone while she makes makeup videos, and doesn’t even find out that Stephen has died until the next day.
Nina and Simon are encouraged by Stephen’s lawyer and executor, Gideon Havelock (Brendan Coyle), to come to London for the funeral. Nina feels that she has nothing to mourn, but Simon convinces her. They end up missing the funeral because a petty Claudia moved the time. But they are in time for the will reading, where they shockingly find out that Stephen is giving them all the shares of F&G, completely shunning Claudia, Gus, Alesha and Wanda.
At first, Nina wants to get rid of the shares, tax implications be damned. But she then remembers how her mother had the idea for F&G, and gets angry at how Stephen and Claudia essentially stole the company out from under Oyin. She also wonders, after the phone call she got from her father and the change in the will, if something is going on. She’s about to sign over the shares when an insult from Claudia tells Nina that her path may just be as the head of F&G.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Riches is essentially a British version of the OWN series Kings Of Napa, the ABC series Promised Land, the Fox series Empire and Monarch, and, of course, the HBO hit Succession.
Our Take: We think that underneath the soapiness of Riches, the show is supposed to say something about the experience of African immigrants in the UK and how tough it was for someone like Stephen Richards to start and grow F&G to the empire it is now. But creator Abby Ajayi, whose recent credits include pulpy shows like Inventing Anna and How To Get Away With Murder, buries whatever message she’s trying to communicate under family rivalries and snarling dialogue.
Thankfully, the cast is up to the task of all the campiness. The highlights here are Ayorinde as the determined Nina and Sarah Niles as her venomous stepmother Claudia. Actually Niles is a revelation here, as she’s mostly known on this side of the Atlantic for her very reserved role as psychologist Sharon Fieldstone in Ted Lasso. But she’s shown versatility in her other roles, and here she’s chef’s-kiss perfect as Claudia. She treats people like shit and doesn’t care; she cheats on Stephen with Andre Scott-Clarke (C.J. Beckford), the lawyer she hired for F&G after Stephen and Gideon had a brief falling out. She has no problem insulting Nina’s mother right as Nina has her pen poised over the papers that will hand over her shares of the company.
In other words, Claudia is written as a pretty fully-realized character, as are Nina and Simon. Gus, Wanda and Alesha are a little more one-dimensional; we know that they’re spoiled, entitled and don’t know of the struggle their father went through to make F&G what it is. Hopefully, Ajayi will round them out as the series goes along and they try to get back from Nina what they think is rightfully theirs.
As we find out at the end of the episode, Stephen was on the verge of losing F&G, and his stroke might not have been natural causes. Those two mysteries, along with the family drama, will push Riches along and give the show plenty of dramatic places to go. We just wish there was a little bit deeper of a story underneath all the suds.
Sex and Skin: Nina has sex with a guy that she meets at a bar in New York, then sends him on his way. All the other sex in the episode is implied.
Parting Shot: Nina tells Simon about Stephen’s phone call and says she needs him to stay in London with her. “I need to find out what happened,” she says.
Sleeper Star: Emmanuel Imani adds some fun as Nina’s brother Simon, and the two of them definitely make a good team to go against their spoiled half-siblings and the conniving Claudia.
Most Pilot-y Line: In a video he made to accompany his will, Stephen says “Well, I must be dead, then,” and chuckles. Way to read the room, dead Stephen!
Our Call: STREAM IT. If it weren’t for Deborah Ayorinde and especially Sarah Niles, we’d likely tell people to skip Riches because it’s so over-the-top soapy. But the two lead performances are so compelling that it will definitely make viewers flip to at least the second episode after the first is over.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.