Recently HBO drama Vinyl was cancelled due to low ratings and poor reviews. In regards the latter, the general consensus was that the show represented everything wrong about prestige TV — overblown budgets, over-reliance on drugs, sex and shoe-horned crime-plots. However, I’d argue that Vinyl had semi-interesting characters and provided a glimpse into a world (70s record labels) that was somewhat interesting. This is something non-applicable to Sky Atlantic’s Riviera, created by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, End of the Affair) — a truer example of the pit-falls of modern TV drama.
It opens with a jarring sequence, one which globe-trots between The French Riviera, New York and London — as if the producers are exclaiming “look how much money we have to waste!”. This may not have been a huge problem (I love some location porn) if it wasn’t for the fact that everything else — aside from Julia Stiles lead performance — was so rote.
The generic plot sees Stiles’ character Georgina Clios — the second wife of Anthony LaPaglia’s rich banker Constantine – attempt to deal with the fallout of her husband’s death in a mysterious boat explosion. Over the pilot, we learn that Mr. Clios was possibly involved in some dodgy painting dealings with a few sketchy Russians. Plus, Constantine’s scorned first wife Irina (Lena Olin, someone who deserves better) may have had reasons to bump him off.
Every character, aside from Stiles who manages in one or two scenes to imbue Georgina with a personality, is a thumbnail sketch — scorned wife, weak son, unhinged daughter. The script — despite being written by the very talented Jordan, as well as Booker Prize winning author John Banville — does not have a memorable line of dialogue (in fact, its over-use of the word “whore” leaves a bad taste). The story is so silly and over the top, yet there is not an ounce of humour to the show.
It feels as if Jordan saw how much money there was to be made in TV and consciously attempted to write a fun, steamy prestige series. Yet, for all the sex and beautiful locations (the pilot, directed by Philipp Kadelbach, does look gorgeous), there is something missing at the heart of Riviera. Its soap-opera tinged plot should be far more fun. Yet, maybe Jordan’s efforts to cash-in on the golden age of television drained the series of vitality. Aside from Stiles and Olin, everything just feels so perfunctory.