'It's brain-candy of the purest grade' - Neil Jordan's Riviera is the new Dallas
Series hits Sky Atlantic and Now TV tonight
Created by Neil Jordan – who co-writes – with John Banville also on scripting duties for some episodes, Riviera has quite a pedigree, even by the standards of modern-day “Prestige TV”.
The ten-part show, which launches tonight on Sky Atlantic, has an Oscar winner and Booker laureate behind it (former U2 manager Paul McGuinness, by the way, came up with the original idea). But for all the literary and artistic heft brought to this project by Jordan and Banville, Riviera is essentially a soap opera…which, of course, is a very good thing indeed.
It’s exceedingly well-crafted soap, certainly. The programme is beautifully filmed – it looks more like a glossy movie than a TV serial – with a stately pace, top-of-the-range acting talent (Julia Stiles, Lena Olin, Anthony LaPaglia and many more) and some interesting little philosophical musings on the nature of money.
But it’s a soap opera. Or, if you find that word a bit off-putting, call it a melodrama. Either way, Riviera makes a refreshing change from the dour, grisly and laughably self-regarding tone that dominates high-quality telly these days.
This is fun, more than anything, in the classic mould of, say, Dallas or (more recently) Revenge: glossy, overwrought, exciting, byzantine, lavish. The Monaco sets are sumptuous, the characters are beautiful, their motivations are outsized and their actions enjoyably implausible, the cars are fast (and furious), and you love to hate almost everyone you see in this variation on Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless.
It’s better written and acted and directed than those other shows, yes, but we’re treading similar ground. And as someone who likes well-done entertainment – and is bored and tired by the chin-stroking pomposity of yer average “serious” drama – this is all very welcome to me.
Julia Stiles stars as Georgina Clios, the American second wife of playboy billionaire Constantine. Episode 1 opens with brisk cuts between Georgina at an art auction (her “job”, such as it is, is to curate hubby’s collection), Constantine at a party on a Russian friend’s yacht and his eldest son Christos getting down and dirty with a young woman after giving a waffly TED Talk-style speech about what it means to have wealth.
Even before the opening ad-break, Constantine and the super-yacht have been blown sky-high and Georgina’s life is turned upside-down. She grieves, genuinely and deeply, for her late husband. But her problems are only beginning.
Constantine’s Black Widow-esque first wife is insinuating herself back into the household. He seems to have had many more secrets than Georgina thought – did she really know her partner at all? A shady guy on a motorbike is following her. She gets a text from Constantine’s phone: how can that be? Meanwhile a girl is found in the sea, undressed but alive, barely – sole survivor of the explosion.
It won’t come as a surprise that there are more twists, tricks, red herrings and misdirections than the lovechild of Agatha Christie and Marvo the Magician. And Jordan at al have great fun with the lavish ridiculousness of it all.
You won’t nebbishly care if plot-points stack up, whether there’s a season-long “arc”, if they’re going to “expand the mythos” or any of that old nonsense. You’ll be too busy A) wishing you lived in Monaco, B) wishing you owned a medieval palazzo, C) wishing you were this rich and pampered and heedless, and D) enjoying the ride and enjoying the show.
Riviera isn’t high art, and doesn’t pretend to be. It’s slick, glamorous, fast-paced, precision-tooled entertainment: brain-candy of the purest grade, and I gobbled it up.
All episodes of Riviera are available from tonight, Thursday 15 June, on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV