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Prime Video’s Riches Tries to Capture the Highs of Succession, But Comes Up Empty

The soap, from Inventing Anna’s Abby Ajayi, can’t settle on a genre.
  • Sarah Niles in Riches (Photo: David Hindley/Prime Video)
    Sarah Niles in Riches (Photo: David Hindley/Prime Video)

    If only Riches were as alluring as its title sequence. The opening credits for this Prime Video series feature a variety of exploding cosmetic products, with plumes of bright colors and shards of jagged glass flying across the screen. That’s immediately seductive, but when the show itself strives for a similar mix of vibrancy and danger, it never delivers. Instead, it recycles stories we’ve seen many times before, never finding its own sense of style.

    The premise certainly has potential. Stephen Richards (Hugh Quarshie) is a self-made Black businessman who found his fortune in England by creating a cosmetics company aimed at Black women. After his death, his family is shocked to learn he’s left his business to Nina (Deborah Ayorinde) and Simon (Emmanuel Imani), his American children from his first marriage. All hell breaks loose among Stephen’s British children and his wife Claudia (Sarah Niles), and that leaves Nina, with her corporate background, to defend a company she never even wanted to run. Meanwhile, she has to investigate her father’s death, since his heart attack seems quite suspicious.

    Right away, there are shades of everything from Succession to Empire to Dynasty. All those series, however, are led by characters who live up to their reputations. But while Nina is described as a take-charge businesswoman, we never see much evidence of her boardroom skill. In fact, we learn more about her string of empty sexual encounters, which feel like easy shortcuts to defining her as a stereotypically heartless power player. Yet even that aspect of her character is barely sketched in, as though just showing her sleeping with people is the same as giving her a backstory.

    The entire show is superficial this way. Flashbacks to Nina’s childhood — where she and Simon were raised by a single mother — hint at explorations of class and privilege, but they’re walled off from the rest of the story. Simon himself is barely developed, and while there are plenty of opportunities for intrigue among Nina’s half-siblings, none of them are distinct enough to stand out from each other. They all become a generalized support group for Claudia instead of individuals with their own motivations. And very late in the season, when details finally emerge about Stephen’s death, they feel like echoes of a thriller that the show forgot to be.

    The series is more successful — or at least more entertaining — when it lets Nina and Claudia fight. Though she never demonstrates much business acumen, Nina proves herself to be an excellent blackmailer, digging up secrets from her stepmother’s past and using them against her. As Claudia, Niles is a campy delight, and audiences who know her best as the supportive therapist on Ted Lasso may be startled that she can be so nasty. Her performance is also quite subdued, which adds a sense of menace. Viewers who want a character to root for will be disappointed, since neither woman is all that nice, but there’s pleasure to be found in watching villains go at each other across a conference table.

    Within their battles, there are potentially provocative ideas about race and power, and the series makes it clear that no matter how successful they become, the Richards family will always face intense prejudice from England’s white, moneyed elite. That adds an interesting texture to the struggle within the family to control the company that forces the rest of the business world to take them seriously. But without thoughtful development, it’s an idea we’re left to ponder on our own.

    Riches premieres December 2 on Prime Video.

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    Matthew Creith is an entertainment journalist based in Austin, with work featured in IN Magazine, Screen Rant, and Matinee With Matt. He is a member of the Critics Choice Association, Hollywood Critics Association, and GALECA: The Society of LGTBQ Entertainment Critics.

    TOPICS: Riches, Amazon Prime Video, Sarah Niles