When hearing water cooler talk about a show involving a wealthy patriarch and his troubled family, you might automatically think about HBO’s popular “Succession.” We live in a world where it’s reasonable to hear “CEO” and think “white man” rather than “Black woman,” and it’s one of the reasons I think Prime Video’s “Riches” doesn’t get nearly the audience it should.
Don’t get me wrong, people are watching. “Riches”’ six-episode first season holds a steady fresh rating with a 100% critic rating and an audience rating of 82%. However, there are only 16 critic ratings and 52 audience ratings. This pales in comparison to “Succession”’s 87 critic and 726 audience ratings in its first season.
It’s even more concerning when you consider the casting. Sarah Niles has a rich filmography and has become ingrained into the hearts of viewers based on stints in “I May Destroy You” and “Ted Lasso.” On that latter show, Dr. Sharon started as a confident and reserved opposite to Ted’s overwhelming yet desperate-to-please personality. Through the season, they found a way to meet in the middle, and even though her residency was up at the end of Season Two, we yearned for more.
We get more Niles in “Riches,” and it’s a treat. Niles plays Claudia Richards, wife of Stephen Richards (Hugh Quarshie), the patriarch and owner of the cosmetics brand Flair & Glory. In the opening scene, we hear Stephen interviewing a reporter whose outlet once refused to write them up. He says immediately that if people only knew the Black woman’s commitment to looking good, they would never question investing in a Black beauty company.
Years later, after establishing the business as a forerunner in an industry that makes billions of pounds annually, Stephen balks at the idea of the magazine only now taking an interest in them: “Everyone is trying to scramble for the Black pound, usually without involving any Black people, of course.”
When asked if Stephen believes he faced racial discrimination throughout his rise, he cheekily asks the reporter, “What do you think?” And after some muttering from his questioner, Stephen says, “It’s a British specialty, tying Black people into knots by asking them again and again if racism is real.”
He asks why the reporter thinks it took so long for Flair and Glory to be recognized. It’s a British entrepreneurial success story; what on earth could be different that people don’t see it as such?
The same can be theorized for the series. I mentioned “Succession” earlier, but despite the similarities in storylines, the show is often compared to OWN’s “Kings of Napa,” an American show with a Black family at the head of a major business. I’ll admit that being Black does throw more wrenches into this rags to “Riches” tale, but the heightened drama should entice more viewers, not keep them at arm’s length.
It enticed me for sure. Stephen Richards has his family with Claudia; this includes Gus (Ola Orebiyi), Alesha (Adeyinka Akinrinade), and Wanda (Nneka Okoye). But he also has the family he abandoned that produced his two eldest and estranged children, Simon (Emmanuel Imani) and Nina (Deborah Ayorinde).
Stephen dies suddenly, and all his children are reunited at the will reading executed by Stephen’s long-time counsel Gideon Havelock (Brendan Coyle, aka “Downton Abbey”’s Mr. Bates as you’ve never seen him!). He reveals that Stephen has left complete ownership of the business to Nina and Simon, throwing the current family members in disarray. None more so than Claudia.
Claudia Richards will stop at nothing to overturn the will and upend Nina. And she will look nothing less than fabulous while doing it. Sarah Niles is truly a gift. From the buttoned-up Dr. Sharon to the devious, spiteful uber-villain that is Claudia, you find yourself in awe of her even while she’s being duplicitous.
Claudia’s inability to stay out of her own way is why Nina accepts Stephen’s offer in the will. She and Simon were ready to give the money back and return to their blessed lives in America, but it’s Claudia’s indignance and pride that cause Nina to turn heel and claim what’s rightfully hers.
As the story of corporate chicanery grows, Nina and Simon face more pressure. Nina rallies with Tinder dates, while Simon has thoughts of starting a family with his boyfriend back in the states. Everyone is distracted, and everyone has something to gain, lose, or prove. As allegiances change, so might your hero. Everyone is shady, and the show forces you to empathize with these characters as fleshed-out human beings. Yes, Claudia is a monster and utterly (and fabulously) conniving, but she undeniably loves her children. Gus may be spoiled, but he’s compassionate. Nina is stubborn to a fault and doesn’t pull punches. It’s a thrill seeing the way the whole of each character fits seamlessly into the narrative.
“Riches” is executively produced for Prime Video by Abby Ajayi, who has worked on projects like “How to Get Away With Murder” and Showtime’s “The First Lady.” She has a knack for writing about women and especially complex Black women. “Riches” stands out for the authenticity with which it’s written, directed, and acted.
The women are proud, they are brave, and they are beautifully flawed in ways that aren’t stereotypical or generic but instead are real. This world of “haves” who are Black and female is a story that all should be able to enjoy. They fight for control and all of the things that we’ve been sold as the dream of success. The element of these women also being Black only serves to show the resolve they have. The story isn’t entirely about a woman in a man’s world but a woman in the cutthroat world of corporations, trying to balance legacy and greed.
The soul of the series is something everyone can likely relate to in some way. Simon and Nina put it best: “Lifelong family feud, generational trauma, the African way.” Except it’s not just the African way, despite the vehicle of a British African family being used to tell the story; it’s the way of life for many, and “Riches” shines a much-needed spotlight on family dynamics that are often never revealed until Thanksgiving dinner.
I recommend watching “Riches” and telling your friends about it. Leave reviews and let Prime Video know they have a hit worthy of renewal on their hands. If watching “Riches” has taught me anything, it’s to always share the wealth.