It’s not exactly a spoiler to say that by minute 11 of the opening episode of “Riches,” there’s a power struggle. The new Prime Video drama series centers on the fortunes of Flair & Glory, a UK-based cosmetics company that prides itself on being one of the beauty industry’s premiere businesses, Black-owned or otherwise. Yet, when the man at the top of that pyramid falls, it’s up to the rest of the family to fill the void he left behind.
Put it off as long as you can, but it’s a near-impossibility to talk about “Riches” without addressing the similarities its premise shares with one of TV’s heaviest hitters. The center of the Venn diagram between “Riches” and “Succession” has things that aren’t necessarily proprietary to the latter. It’s hard to build drama around a fictional large company without at least one financial scandal or one climactic boardroom vote or intrafamily disputes over branding/strategy/general attitude.
Instead, for all its overlap, “Riches” is notable for the ways it’s different. Some of it is inescapable — no one from the Roy family is getting extra glances from police officers or jewelry store security guards. But there’s also an overriding difference to the atmosphere this family business generates. It’s not that power isn’t at play here, yet “Riches” creates a battleground where the people who control it can at least retain their dignity. The title of top Flair & Glory shot-caller isn’t just a status symbol, but a potential source of pride in sustaining something that customers can benefit from.
Sarah Niles in “Riches”
David Hindley/Prime Video
A large part of that stems from the choice of protagonist here. Nina (Deborah Ayorinde), along with her brother Simon (Emmanuel Imani) are part of the late Stephen Richards’ (Hugh Quarshie) greater family, but living their life on the other side of the Atlantic. They didn’t grow up with expectations of one day living the life of a magnate. In the immediate wake of their father’s untimely passing, what begins as a quick trip to pay their minimal obligations to a distant father (and spite their stepmother and stepsiblings in the process) suddenly takes on a different purpose. With more to prove than her own existence, Nina by definition has to treat this decision of filling the Flair & Glory vacuum as more than a game or a petty squabble with nine-figure stakes.
As a result, the consequences on “Riches” also play out on a different scale. Flair & Glory is a company with a certain amount of sway, but not quite the international megaconglomerate that can play kingmaker on its own. To the extent that there are Richards failsons, that’s far from their defining feature. Gus (Ola Orebiyi) may throw his bank account around, but “Riches” doesn’t creating failing-upward scenarios here. Alesha may share her mother Claudia’s (Sarah Niles) indignation that their branch of the family tree doesn’t get their presumed fair share, but “Riches” establishes her own bona fides as an entrepreneur of her own making. Wanda (Nneka Okoye) isn’t a teenager anymore, but her perspective on the situation lets “Riches” dip into what this whole process looks like for the youngest Richards.
The longer the season goes on, “Riches” does embrace its capital-d Drama side. There are juicy forbidden romances, stacks of papers shoved off tables, and various violations of professional ethics. There’s an overarching main mystery introduced a third of the way into the season (even if its arrival or its culprit isn’t exactly surprising). All of that feels like making up for the default cynicism towards big business that “Riches” lacks. Rarely are the champagne celebrations here ironic. The victories here — in product launches, thwarting takeovers, changing cultural perceptions of beauty — are presented as legitimate ones, with worth beyond that of the Richards family.
David Hindley/Prime Video
Even amidst finding ways to center empowerment over exhaustion, this six-episode season still feels stretched thin. Another case of “opening season as pilot,” the closing minutes of the finale find a much more interesting future avenue for these family dynamics than what came before it. For the most part, any attempt to give any member of the Richards family a life outside the office ends up as a red herring or pure setup. The fact that so many of those outside roads lead straight back to Flair & Glory would be an interesting comment on the all-consuming nature of corporate life if so many of those other layers didn’t feel like checking off boxes for anyone inherently turned off by talk of subsidiaries and distributors and holding companies.
But there are glimmers. Alesha’s independence and the dynamic between Nina and Simon are dependable parts of a “Riches” foundation going forward. (Imani in particular paints a compelling portrait of someone torn between comfort, family obligation, and the possibilities of a new life a continent away.)
And not having Stephen present means that his legacy is flexible. Each new detail about what their father did when he was alive is a chance for his children to be driven by something other than amassing wealth. In “Riches,” that money isn’t as assured as it is in stories dominated more by greed. This show is cutting with a blade that isn’t quite as sharp, but there are signs it could be used to slice its way out of its own bubble.
“Riches” is now available to stream on Prime Video.
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