Aaron Spelling and other creators from the halcyon days of TV nighttime soap operas understood that they needed to lead up to all the drama gradually. Krystal and Alexis Carrington weren’t going to get into a catfight in Dynasty episode one, after all, and Sydney and Jane had to build up to their wedding dress scuffle in the Melrose Place pool. Fox’s latest addition to the genre unfortunately throws the viewer into the deep end much too quickly, with a plethora of characters we’re supposed to care about long before we do (if we ever will).
Filthy Rich focuses on the Monreaux clan in New Orleans; patriarch Eugene (Gerald McRaney) and matriarch Margaret (Kim Cattrall) have made billions by taking their trailer-park preacher act to the big time, now running their own Sunshine Network (think of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and the PTL network, but much classier). But in episode one, McRaney is taken out of the equation almost immediately when Eugene’s private plane crashes (while he is partying with two much younger women) and he is presumed dead. That’s just a perfectly good waste of a Major Dad. Widow Margaret then discovers that Eugene fathered three children with three different women (the word “bastards” gets thrown around much too much for anyone’s liking in 2020), who are now all eligible for inheritance thanks to Eugene’s will.
The revelation rocks insecure, petty Monreaux son Eric (Corey Cott) and sweeter sibling Rose (Aubrey Dollar), especially when it’s revealed that their three new half-siblings are Antonio, an MMA fighter (Benjamin Levy Aguilar); Jason, a Colorado pot grower (Mark L. Young); and Ginger Sweet (Melia Kreiling), who runs her own online sex business called Sin Wagon and whose name functions as a helpful indicator of where Filthy Rich falls on the subtlety scale.
Margaret Monreaux takes a commanding, pragmatic approach to her now-widowed status, trying to figure out the easiest way to buy out her husband’s other children while still hanging onto their ministry—which is based on apparent rectitude, but mostly makes money by fleecing its followers. The hypocrites-versus-honest-sinners conflict basically boils down to Margaret versus Ginger, who grew up watching the Sunshine Network, and subsequently seems to know as much about scripture as Margaret does. But where religious beliefs become an actual factor in a show like Teenage Bounty Hunters (yes, that sounds completely outlandish, but it’s true), here Christianity and piety are more cynically used as props to frame the series around (also unsubtle: naming episodes after Bible verses like John 3:3, a.k.a. the “born again” line). Dialogue often resembles trite, vaguely Biblical-sounding platitudes better suited to Chicken Soup For The Soul. Even more unsettling is the flirtation that pops up between a pair of the new half-siblings.
Filthy Rich is the first project from Ma and The Girl On The Train director Tate Taylor, who previously explored aspects of his native South as the director and writer of The Help (he grew up with Help author Kathryn Stockett). With Filthy Rich, he may have been trying to translate the New Zealand source material into a Southern gothic soap opera in the Tennessee Williams vein, but he actually wound up revisiting some of The Help’s worst tendencies. The few people of color in Filthy Rich are cast as, yes, the help, with two-time Emmy-nominee Steve Harris as Margaret’s right-hand man, and Daneen Taylor as a Sunshine Network director. Even Antonio quickly gets hired as part of Margaret’s security detail.
Cattrall, though, tries to rise above it all. The Scruples alum has clearly studied her Joan Collins (and probably her Geraldine Page), ably filling the center of the series as a woman who appears to be a caring maternal type, but is also coldly calculating and duplicitous. It’s unfortunate that Cattrall isn’t given better material to work with; despite her frequently faltering drawl, she’s committed to pushing this sudsy drama over the top. Also wasted so far: the always-welcome Alanna Ubach as Antonio’s similarly designing mother, and Juliette Lewis shows up as some sort of Walmart employee. Equally inexplicable is the fact, in 2020, everyone just seems to be watching the Sunshine Network 24-7, from the patrons of a variety of taverns to Jason’s rando pothead friends in Colorado. And the series setting of New Orleans is primarily limited to a few shots of steamboats, with an occasional postcard view of the French Quarter.
Filthy Rich wants to be more clever than it is, but its overly dramatic plot twists (Eugene’s body isn’t discovered in the plane crash) can be spotted a mile away by anyone who’s seen even a single episode of Dallas. And its myriad plotlines between the network and the five siblings are disparate enough to get tied up in knots. It’s a shame, especially for the two people at the head of the Monreaux clan: Cattrall and McRaney definitely deserve to headline an updated nighttime soap, but Filthy Rich isn’t it.