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Another Look at the Crimes of the Filthy Rich with ‘Riviera’
September 14, 2017  | By David Hinckley
 

Riviera reminds us how many television characters have a billion dollars, but can’t afford a moral compass.

A 10-part British series that premieres Thursday on the Sundance Now streaming service, Riviera becomes our latest crime mystery soap with a lavish look and no sympathy for the ethical bankruptcy of the filthy rich.

Julia Stiles (top) stars as Georgina Clios, a Midwestern art dealer who caught the fancy of billionaire Constantine Clios (Anthony LaPaglia) right around the time he was looking for a trophy wife. Georgina got the gig.

Her job description seems to be spending a bunch of his money, like on $25 million paintings. Brutal work, but someone has to do it.  

At least at first, Georgina doesn’t seem blatantly obnoxious like a lot of the rich women in, say, Revenge. There are plenty of other women here to fill that role.

Georgina seems to be a decent kid getting accustomed to the trappings of a world where you have Everything. Hey, who wouldn’t?  

Her world veers sharply into the unknown, however, when Constantine takes a ride on a yacht that blows up. The only survivor is a mysterious young woman we see disrobing and diving into the water moments before the explosion.

Constantine saw her, too, watching with great interest. Did we mention that he didn’t tell Georgina he was on the yacht, lying that he was visiting a friend’s villa?

In any event, his death rearranges the chessboard. His ambitious son Christos (Dimitri Leonidas, left) seems to be taking over the business, which leaves Georgina free to wonder about what really happened and what’s next.

She falls into an alliance with Constantine’s first wife, Irina (Lena Olin), who is also the mother of his three children. The two women seem at first to have a cordial, somewhat awkward relationship, but they inch a little closer together as it becomes clear malevolent forces are circling this whole situation.

Amazing how large financial holdings always seem to attract that sort of crowd.

Piecing together the little that Georgina knows and the slightly more that Irina knows – or will reveal – they get a whiff of what Constantine was really involved in, which isn’t the kind of dealings for which the Better Business Bureau gives good corporate citizenship awards.

We see unnamed people following Georgina around, snapping her picture as she checks out the Monaco apartment that Constantine never told her he had.

Shadowy unnamed people also talk about what they should do next, and we gradually realize some of the art crowd here consists of high-end forgers and fencers.

Georgina could possibly take some modest cut of Constantine’s estate, return to the Midwest and start over with enough money to last forever.

But she’s not that kind of gal. She wants to know what’s up, and before you know it, she doesn’t have much choice about sticking around and mixing it up with the kind of people Constantine didn’t invite to their dinner parties.

Riviera is soapy, it’s melodramatic, it’s over the top, it’s nothing that will define the platinum age of television.

For what it is and what it seeks to do, it provides a nice fantasy escape for those of us who won’t get any closer to the actual Riviera than our TV remote.

 
 
 
 
 
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Good news, TVWW readers: David’s new book from Doubleday, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific is now available in paperback for under $15. Doubleday says: “Darwin had his theory of evolution, and David Bianculli has his. Bianculli's theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way."

"The Platinum Age of Television is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV. For instance, animation evolved from Rocky and His Friends to South Park; variety shows moved from The Ed Sullivan Show to Saturday Night Live; and family sitcoms grew from I Love Lucy to Modern Family. Interviews with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Bob Newhart, Matt Groening, Larry David, Amy Schumer are high points... Bianculli has written a highly readable history." —The Washington Post

 

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