When did TV stop having fun? Lord knows we could use it. Filthy Rich will never be confused for Emmy bait, but Fox’s new soap — about a flashy and flawed family of Prosperity Gospel billionaires — is a welcome throwback to the type of playful, Spelling-esque silliness that’s been missing from primetime for too long.
The series opens with the image of Margaret Monreaux (Kim Cattrall), clad in a red sequin evening dress and white fur stole, strolling out of a plantation-style New Orleans home that’s engulfed in flames. “Rot in Hell,” she murmurs. Things do not get more subtle from there.
Flashback to four months earlier. Margaret and her husband, conservative faith leader Eugene Monreaux (Gerald McRaney), take to the airwaves of their successful Sunshine Network to announce the family’s latest venture: A Christian-themed online shopping retailer. It’s the type of lucrative brand extension Jesus could only dream about. The Monreaux kids — ambitious Eric (Corey Cott) and aspiring fashion designer Rose (Aubrey Dollar) — are looking forward to inheriting it all one day.
But then a private jet carrying Eugene and two of his mistresses crashes into the Louisiana swampland — and whaddya know? His will reveals the existence of three illegitimate children: Ginger Sweet (Melia Kreiling), owner of a fetish-cam website based in Las Vegas; Antonio Rivera (Benjamin Levy Aguilar), an MMA fighter and single dad from Queens; and Jason Conley (Mark L. Young), a marijuana proprietor from Colorado. When hush money and homemade cake doesn’t make the problem go away, Margaret welcomes the three heathens-out-of-water into the Monreaux family fold with a press conference. Praise the Lord and pass the exposition!
Adapted from a New Zealand series by showrunner-director Tate Taylor (Grace and Frankie, Ma), Filthy Rich puts a promising number of absurd storylines in motion in the first three episodes. Angling for a larger part of the Monreaux family fortune, Ginger Sweet — who wears bright red lipstick, so you know she’s a loose woman — moves all of her SinWagon.com employees to a seedy New Orleans motel (think GLOW, but with webcam girls). Apparent half-siblings Rose and Jason begin a highly problematic flirtation, and Margaret takes over as CEO of Sunshine Networks, much to the consternation of Eric and the company’s most popular televangelist, Rev. Paul Thomas (Aaron Lazar). Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” plays at the nine-minute mark in the series premiere; someone gets slapped across the face in act three; by the end of the episode, there have been several references to something called “butt butter.” To quote Garry Marshall, “This is soap opera!”
Though the Monreaux family built their empire on the business of saving souls, the show’s depiction of religion is more affectation than anything else. Characters kneel by their beds in stagey prayer, but their pleas to the heavens serve mostly to move the story along or recap what’s come before. Literally: The “previously on” summary is delivered by Eric’s scheming wife Becky (Olivia Macklin), who fills the good Lord in on all of last week’s happenings. People quote scripture, too, but it’s usually hurled as a defensive weapon — “Shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause!” Ginger warns Margaret — or used to sell perfume. The second episode begins with a black-and-white commercial for a new fragrance, Proverbs: 31 by Margaret Monreaux. “A woman who feareth the Lord, she shall be praised,” breathes Margaret, as she strolls dreamily through gauzy curtains.
It’s a sublime moment of camp and a wonderful showcase for Cattrall, who has a grand old time as Filthy Rich’s head Bible-thumper in charge. Her Margaret is a jewelry-draped diva with velvet-glove charm that disguises an iron will and a stormy temper. In her lowest moment, sneaking a cigarette after learning of Euguene’s multiple indiscretions, Margaret still has the good sense to wear a rubber dishwashing glove over her impeccably manicured hand. “I’m not messin’ up my nails with nicotine stains,” she drawls, her voice as smooth as sweet tea. The always-welcome Steve Harris keeps a straight face as Franklin Lee (these names!), the Monreaux family’s loyal and protective right-hand man. If the rest of the cast isn’t quite up to Cattrall’s level, well, they aren’t always working with fully-conceived characters or above-average writing. (One of Aguilar’s first lines as Antonio is, and I quote: “Yo, I’m gonna knock your teeth in, homie!”) But soap opera runs on more than thespian craft. Every character has interesting secrets — from Eric’s scandalous hobby to Rev. Thomas’ sinister agenda — and Juliette Lewis recurs as a cashier at the Dew Drop Buy Box.
Broadcast networks haven’t shown much faith in sudsers of late; the two most recent primetime soaps, ABC’s Grand Hotel and The Baker and the Beauty, barely lasted one season. Readers, let us pray that Fox gives Filthy Rich more time to find its flock — these days, an hour of frivolous escapism feels positively heavenly. Grade: B
Filthy Rich premieres Monday, Sept. 21 at 9 p.m. on Fox