Of Travelers And Riches

The faux Doug and Cherien Rich apply for Social Security cards for their children

I just watched the pilot and second show of a 2007-2008 television series called “The Riches”, and I’m not sure whether to laugh or be grateful that the show didn’t make it past its second season.

“The Riches”, set in Baton Rouge, follows the Malloys as they pass as what they call “buffers”, in this case wealthy buffers. The Malloys are attempting – Mom, Dad, children Cael, Di-Di and Sam – to palm themselves off as a suburban, upper-middle-class clan (last name Rich) after the original Doug and Cherien Rich died in a car wreck. They’re also hoping they’ve escaped their original extended family, because the Malloys are travelers.

That word isn’t much used in the US, though it’s very familiar in Britain, where the two leads (comic actors Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard) come from. A traveler is a gypsy, a member of an extensive network of people who steal, pull cons, pay little or no tax, rarely send their children to school, and arrange the kids’ marriages before they’re even teenagers. Researchers have noted the blatant sexuality travelers’ children are exposed to, and the life can also be vengeful and violent.

Wayne and Dahlia are good at cons. So are their kids, who variously trawl the Internet for background info on the real Riches, create new IDs, and hack into the Riches’ e-mail. Wayne becomes Doug, Dahlia transforms into Cherien, and they’re off, in the safest gated community in Baton Rouge, where the security guards carry assault rifles.

Interspersed with the Malloys’ weird attempts to fit in – and Cherien’s continued drug habit – are scenes from the travelers’ camp they left, because their extended gypsy family is unhappy. Wade Malloy (Wayne’s foster brother) is especially upset, because Wayne took $40,000 from the family safe, and Wade wants both the money and his pound of flesh. He also wants the Wayne’s daughter, Di-Di, for his son.

It was the scenes from the camp that appalled me, and particularly Wade’s violent nature. He thinks nothing of lashing out at a pregnant woman and her husband, and we can imagine the reception he plans for Wayne, should he catch up with him – a plan for which he uses Cael Malloy’s girlfriend, forcing her to call Cael and plead for rescue.

It’s one thing to create a show based on an extended con – think The Sting. And I have no problem with Wade Malloy being portrayed as a psychotic threat. Where I get off the boat is when a lawless society (the travelers) that in reality hurts so many as part of its raison d’être is glorified as a bunch of generally harmless folks camped out in the woods.

If some people (as they have in France and Great Britain) accuse governments of racism when they force travelers to return to their own countries, others counter with accusations of behavior. Many travelers’ actions (thievery, assault) are illegal, many more within their camps are unethical. “The Riches” glossed over those unsavory details. They shouldn’t have.

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