THE RICHES: SEASON 1
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"Pilot," "Believe the Lie," "Operation Education," "Been There, Done That," "The Big Floss," "Reckless Gardening," "Virgin Territory," "X Spots the Mark," "Cinderella," "This is Your Brain on Drugs," "Anything Hugh Can Do, I Can Do Better," "It's a Wonderful Lie," "Waiting for Dogot"
SQUIDBILLIES: VOLUME ONE
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"This is a Show Called Squidbillies," "Take This Job and Love It," "School Days, Fool Days," "Chalky Trouble," "Family Trouble," "Government Brain Voodoo Trouble," "Butt Trouble," "Double Truckin' the Tricky Two," "Swayze Crazy," "Giant Foam Dickhat Trouble," "The Tiniest Princess," "Meth OD to My Madness," "Bubba Trubba," "Asses to Ashes, Sluts to Dust," "Burned and Reburned Again," "Terminus Trouble," "Survival of the Dumbest," "A Sober Sunday," "Rebel with a Claus"
by Ian Pugh You didn't need anyone to tell you that hypocrisy transcends social class, but this doesn't stop "The Riches" from preaching that liars and thieves can be found in virtually any tier of society. What finally emerges is a belaboured cry of "fuck rich people" about as subtle and original as the show's title. Start from the bottom and work your way up to the top: with his wife, Dahlia (Minnie Driver), newly-released from a two-year stretch in the slammer, Wayne Malloy (Eddie Izzard) shuttles his family of con artists--including children Cael (Noel Fisher), Di Di (Jewel Staite look-alike Shannon Woodward), and Sam (Aidan Mitchell)--back to the safety of their Irish travelers' campout, only to find that the clan is less than thrilled at the way Wayne's been running his branch of the family tree. Shortly after making off with all the money from the compound, the Malloys are thrown into a wild RV chase that results in the death of one Doug Rich, a scumbag lawyer who was on his way to a freshly-purchased home in the high-class gated community of Edenfalls. With no other witnesses to the crash and the nomadic nature of their grifts quickly losing its novelty, Wayne concocts a plan to assume the Riches' identities and, ultimately, "steal the American Dream."
The seams in this premise begin to show almost immediately. Like many modern serials, "The Riches" struggles to build on its protagonists beyond an introductory sketch, as if out of fear that anything too deep will disturb the season's overreaching narrative arc. Coping with his burgeoning transvestitism while scrawling a Profondo Rosso-style mural of his family's traumatic exploits on his bedroom wall, Sam, in particular, gets short-changed in this respect: the series drags its feet in exploring his behaviour, so instead of blowing its load too soon it merely slows any growth or examination down to a point where Sam's quirks become bafflingly negligible. And what is that overreaching narrative arc, exactly? As the plot unfolds, we come to understand that on "The Riches", character development takes a backseat to an overdeveloped sense of sanctimonious misanthropy--which is automatically doomed to fail for its refusal to adequately examine our heroes' motives. The Malloys' down-home cunning is almost always constructed with laughs in mind and constantly forgiven--in the show's eyes--because the family operates by some ethical compass that's often invoked but never really defined. No matter, for as Dahlia seamlessly transfers her drug addiction from meth to pills acquired from an oblivious neighbour (Margo Martindale) with a closeted husband, and as Wayne vamps his way to a position as the in-house legal counsel for a weaselly real estate developer (Gregg Henry), the series never forgets to pound it into our brains that, golly, everybody's a fraud in Edenfalls.
The point is that no one is innocent and the American Dream is a lie, I guess. As with the questionable legal tactics of "Shark", "The Riches"' manifest admiration for its characters' talents (and the fact that they mainly rob people who obviously deserve it) means that it cannot judge them too harshly, making them the closest analogs to "innocent" the series will conceptually allow. Even the hasty, traitorous exit from their old lifestyle is easily rationalized away as an escape from the show's resident bogey, crazed clan leader Dale (Todd Stashwick). It isn't until the Malloys have ingratiated the traits of Edenfalls' residents into their actual personalities that anyone dares wag a finger; but because it loses all perspective in attempting to forge a comparison between their past and present, "The Riches" has no real basis for telling us that cheating is wrong in any sense of the word. This misguided agenda eventually poisons the cast's noble efforts: Driver is saddled with the thankless task of shouting these lessons to the rooftops; and for as much as I love Izzard as an actor, he isn't given much to do here beyond talking out of his ass, casually building confidence once people start listening to what he has to say. When he's thrown into a new direction as Wayne attempts his daily routine while drunk (1.6, "Reckless Gardening") or hopped-up on meth to prove a point to Dahlia (1.10, "This is Your Brain on Drugs"), the performance has little practical function beyond a hamfisted treatise on the overmedicated zombification of the upper class. Since it's largely populated by people who are one-dimensional, sociopathic hicks in one respect or another, "The Riches"' would-be didacticism is pretty readily defeated by its unwillingness to learn anything about itself.
Cartoon Network somehow extends its own story of one-dimensional, sociopathic hicks into nearly twenty episodes as "Squidbillies"--so named because they're hillbillies but also squids, get it? It's enough to confirm that the [adult swim] block does indeed use the benefit of the doubt arising from the multi-layered humour of "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" and "Tom Goes to the Mayor" as an excuse to lazily dole out intentionally shitty animation and indiscriminate non sequiturs. Despite countless script revisions and so many false starts that [adult swim] fans believed it to be a hoax, "Squidbillies" still boils down to a long list of stale stereotypes, following the adventures of cephalopod patriarch Early Cuyler (Stuart Daniel Baker, better known as fake country music star "Unknown Hinson") in the backwoods of Georgia with dimwit son Rusty (Daniel McDevitt), whore sister Lil (Patti French), and senile Granny (Dana Snyder) as they dabble in racial hatred (1.4, "Chalky Trouble"), snake-handling (1.10, "Giant Foam Dickhat Trouble"), and general inebriation (1.18, "Sober Sunday") in their own hyuck-hyuck ignorant way.
Although it takes Larry the Cable Guy to task (1.13, "Bubba Trubba"), "Squidbillies" blindly indulges in that same brand of comedy; you can only make so many jokes about Southerners being violent, illiterate drunks before you just become an ignorant jackass shooting fish in a barrel or (particularly relevant considering that the Cartoon Network is headquartered in Atlanta) an inert lump of self-loathing. The only genuine humour on display is localized in episode 1.9, "Swayze Crazy," featuring a legless bald man who claims to be Patrick Swayze and a silly, insipid pop ballad, "Thirsty Eyes" ("I'm gonna use my eyes to look into your eyes, girl"), that could've appeared on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack without anyone being any the wiser. Given the preponderance of redneck gags and the random cameos from Jesus as a squid with stigmata, I bid you good luck in wading through the rest of it.
Fox brings "The Riches: Season 1" to DVD in a four-disc/two-thinpak package. Across the board, the 1.78:1, 16x9-enhanced image is nice and sharp; as was the case with the show's HD broadcasts, dark colours occasionally look washed-out. The attendant DD 5.1 audio is on the whole robust, though the surround channels sound a little meek. Izzard and creator Dmitry Lipkin lodge commentaries for the pilot and season finale, "Waiting for Dogot" (1.13). They have a few great stories to tell--especially about parsing their motivations for what makes the Malloys tick--but run out of steam by their second go-round, touching briefly on the difficulty of maintaining verisimilitude before succumbing to the distraction of the episode proper. For what it's worth, Lipkin seems pretty attached to his characters and their ability to "speak their minds," something that might explain why he lets them get away with murder, figuratively speaking.
Two Fox Movie Channel docs--"Casting Session" (9 mins.), a shallow overview of how gosh-darn great the actors are, and "World Premiere" (5 mins.) a typical piece of "entertainment journalism" in which host Tava Smiley asks pedestrian questions of the cast and crew--are housed under the Special Features menu. Blithely skip over a "Gag Reel" (12 mins.) edited together like an Oscar retrospective in lieu of the seven "Webisodes" on Disc Four, wherein Wayne imparts traveler wisdom and various con-artist lessons to Cael and Di Di. They're not only delightfully silly but also interesting to contemplate in a broader sense, for they either cast the Internet as the new playground for post-show rimshots (the next generation of "G. I. Joe" PSAs?) or definitively position "The Riches" as a show that does not advocate the cool crime of robbery. A promo for the new season of "The Shield" cues up on the first disc.
"Squidbillies: Volume One" comes home in a two-disc set from Warner that's made to look like a cardboard box slathered in smeared drawings from a jingoistic simpleton--and that's the series in a nutshell, isn't it? (On a side note, navigating the menus is an irritating chore--everything but your highlighted selection is scribbled-out and unreadable.) The full-frame presentation is extremely bright in that uniquely Flash-animated way, though it doesn't suffer from the motion-blurring that often occurs when the medium is transferred to DVD. While the DD 2.0 audio doesn't pack much of a punch, I was rather impressed by the explosions from Early's oft-used shotgun. Just about every member of the cast and crew drifts in and out of four giggly, useless commentaries spread across a quartet of episodes. That said, the odd intriguing tidbit sneaks its way into the discussion; they may dance around the subject, but it's indirectly confirmed that Charles Napier was the original, uncredited voice of the town sheriff (the lack of a positive identification was driving me crazy)--and, what's more, the team remains very bitter about losing him. They are, however, quite pleased with his replacement, Bobby Ellerbee, who sounds nearly identical to Napier. Disc One's extras are contained in "The Five Pilots of the Apocalypse," which documents the torturous evolution of the show. Pre-production voice recordings accompany the aggressively unfunny pilot scripts, here introduced by the show's writers and executive producer Mike Lazzo with no small dose of depression. "Squidbillies" apparently blossomed to life in a discussion about what would happen if you mashed Squiddly Diddly together with Huckleberry Hound. Who could have foreseen the disaster?
Discover more mind-numbing extras over on Disc Two. After a deluge of publicity, the show's creators eventually deemed the pilot (a pilot?) unfit for air and hastily put together an "Anime Talk Show" (11 mins.) to replace it. It's not much of an improvement: Space Ghost moderates a discussion with Early Cuyler, Meatwad from "Aqua Teen Hunger Force", and Sharko from "Sealab 2021" that promptly degenerates into a non-stop assault of blood and penis jokes. At first, "Star Bar Squidbilly Circle-Jerk" (21 mins.) feels like a barside meeting of the Mutual Appreciation Society with McDevitt, creator Dave Willis, editor Ned Hastings, music director David Powell, sound designer Shawn Coleman, and (literal) background artist Ben Prisk, but soon it turns into a fairly lively discussion complete with clips from voice and song recording sessions. (Alas, they all seem blissfully unaware of how repetitive the show truly is.) "Unknown Hinson: Animation Master, Cartoon Craftsman" (11 mins.) sees Baker bullying the "Squidbillies" staff around with outrageous demands in his Hinson persona; the hick jokes still aren't funny concentrated into a single buffoonish personality, but at least they don't hurt quite as much. Wrapping things up are a stagnant minute-long promo first presented at Comic-Con 2004, an art gallery charting the characters' evolution, and a multitude of "Deleted Sceens (sic)" that are about as hi-larious as that misspelled title. Originally published: March 18, 2008.
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