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Review: Prime Video’s ‘Riches’ Has Traces of a Classic Soap Opera, But Misses the Mark

Review: Prime Video’s ‘Riches’ Has Traces of a Classic Soap Opera, But Misses the Mark

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A soap opera about a wealthy Nigerian British family fighting over their multi-million dollar Black hair and beauty products should be juicy and filled with glamor, camp, and fun. Unfortunately, Prime Video’s Riches is predictable, basic, and bland. 

The premise of the series is compelling. When Stephen Richards (Hugh Quarshie, Absentia), the CEO of Flair and Glory cosmetics, dies suddenly his family is shocked to learn he’s changed his will to include the children from his first marriage in running the company after him. His firstborn daughter Nina (Deborah Ayorinde,Truth be Told) becomes CEO of the company. His second wife Claudia (Sarah Niles, Ted Lasso) and their children Gus (Ola Orebiyi, Cherry), Alesha (Adeyinka Akinrinade, Top Boy), and Wanda (Nneka Okoye, Grantchester) are already fighting among themselves, but when they find out their step siblings have been included in the family business, it’s officially war.

Riches is created, written, and directed by Abby Ajayi. Ajayi was a writer on Netflix’s Inventing Anna and Showtime’s The First Lady, and frankly the writing on both of these series missed the mark. Unfortunately, Riches doesn’t do much better. All of the characters are one dimensional and broadly written, which would be okay for a soap opera if the characters had compelling aspects about them to like—but they don’t. 

The only likable character in Riches was Nina’s younger brother Simon (Emmanuel Imani, Criminal). The one truly loving relationship we see in the series is between Nina and Simon. Their chemistry as siblings was a delightful high point in the show. And, the only stable love relationship in the show is between Simon and his boyfriend back in the States.

Riches has traces of classic soap opera writing like Dynasty and Falcon Crest back in the 1980s, but misses the mark. In the original Dynasty series, the battle was between first wife Alexis (Joan Collins) and younger second wife Krystle (Linda Evans). Krystle and Alexis had a clear history and loathed one another, which gave fuel for juicy conflict. The verbal fights were vicious and campy and often led to hilarious fisticuffs where Alexis and Krystle were rolling around pulling hair and throwing punches leaving their gowns ripped and bloody. Dynasty was soap opera camp at its best. When you watch Nigerian soap operas they work well because they go all in by following that campy soap opera formula. Riches starts to go there but pulls back. 

I know we are in the twenty-first century and soap operas have evolved, but the conflict between Claudia and Nina is flat out boring. If you’re gonna try to be like a campy nighttime soap, why not throw in some fisticuffs? Some fighting could have made the show more entertaining. 

This show also has no sense of humor. Claudia is written as a mustache twirling villain who has a constant scowl on her face and some truly horrible wigs, and her weak strategies give the audience no reason to find her interesting. It’s a shame because Sara Niles is a wonderful actor with incredible range. Here, she seems to be just saying her lines, hitting her marks, and collecting her paycheck. 

Nina seems angry, hollow, and makes obvious choices throughout the series. I wasn’t rooting for her to succeed, which is too bad because I really wanted to be connected to these characters. The writing got in the way of everything. Each of Claudia’s adult children were spoiled trust fund babies who did not deserve to inherit anything. Andre reminded me of a British upper class version of Queen Sugar’s Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe), who is another version of a spoiled Black male character I can’t stand. Wanda was a spoiled brat who yelled in almost every scene she was in. 

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The only slightly likable child from this part of the family was Alesha, but she was self-absorbed and ended up making some stupid choices that made me just shake my head at the script. It would have been nice if the writers had built in some sort of connection between Claudia and her children beyond money and status. Every interaction a Black character has with a white character who does not directly work for the family is a microaggression. The writers throw so many microaggressions into the show they become cliche. It comes off as lazy writing.

I don’t expect all Black projects to be high art. If you’re gonna write a nighttime soap, have fun and go for it. And I do love me a soap opera. I grew up watching soaps and had the privilege of doing quite a bit of day player work on soap operas in New York back in the early 2000s. It was so much fun being on set during a big storyline climax shoot day watching the main actors tear into one another as they said pages of dialogue they’d just learned the night before. It was melodrama at its finest that audiences could be totally engaged by as they did housework during the day. 

Nighttime soaps were an escape for audiences where you could see beautiful clothes and exotic locations. Riches does not feel luxurious. The show takes place mainly in London. The locations are offices, conference rooms, and homes that frankly do not look very expensive. Prime Video spent billions of dollars on Rings of Power, did they not have any budget left over for shows like Riches and Harlem

Somebody needs to give the hair department some serious notes because particularly in the first two episodes you could see the obvious difference between the texture of Nina’s relaxed hair and the hair weave, and it was distracting. I guess if the writing were better I would have been more engaged and not noticed the hair detail, but it wasn’t. The wardrobe on both of these shows looks straight off the rack from any mall department store. The lighting design was horrible. Most of the actors are dark skinned, and in many of the scenes that took place at night or in the bedroom, you couldn’t see people. In the 21st century that’s unacceptable. 

I’m sure there’s an audience out there who will enjoy Riches, and I’m happy we’re living in a time where all art created by Black artists doesn’t have to be good. Riches is watchable, but it isn’t fun or entertaining and left me disappointed, wondering what the point was.

All six episodes of Riches stream on Prime Video December 2, 2022.

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