The Riches is recession-proof entertainment. FX's drama, entering its second season, actually feels sharper amidst a foundering economy of subprime mortgages, credit crises, and supersize debts. The Riches runs on the fuel of acquisition: It's all about getting and keeping, and the mental costs of possession. Last season, the Malloy family of Travellers Irish-American gypsies slipped into the identity of the late Rich family, taking their mansion, luxury cars, and high-end job as a real estate lawyer for dad Wayne (Eddie Izzard). The new life also includes the constant threat of discovery and never-ending pressure to make more money. This season's premiere sees the family in crisis in the wake of potential exposure: Wayne tries to deal with everything from drunk bosses to dead bodies while matriarch Dahlia (Minnie Driver) goes on the run with the kids. Whizzing down the highway, she declares, ''We are grifters and drifters and nomads, we're the scourge of the goddamned earth we're Travellers!'' Penniless and pursued, she looks more at home than she ever was in the snooty and ominously named suburb of Edenfalls, La.
Season 2 wrestles constantly and noisily with the idea of freedom: Is freedom money or the absence of money? Is it a home or rattle-around homelessness? And how does anyone stop craving? ''The minute you get what you think you want, you always want more,'' Dahlia frets, and she's right. Everyone in this drama, rich or poor, is on the make, from Dahlia's murderous, coyote-eyed cousin Dale (Todd Stashwick), who blackmails the Malloys for a piece of the action, to Wayne's venal boss, Hugh (Gregg Henry), whose latest real estate venture depends on screwing over Katrina victims. Even the Malloys' marks have crushing needs. In the midst of stealing a car, Dahlia and her crew get taken hostage by the vehicle's fed-up owner. At his house, the man paces with a gun as a collection agency rings constantly, his wife grumbles about her Wal-job, and Dahlia tries to figure out what the man needs to feel better. After all his debts and desires are summed up, it turns out he needs about $6,158.87. Hey, everyone has a price. The Malloys eventually decide to risk staying in Edenfalls another few months, until Wayne can cash in on his share of the Katrina land scheme for a tidy $13 million.
The Riches isn't subtle: It's filled with symbolic sing-alongs, boisterous speechifying, and a lot of unbelievable story lines, the biggest requiring us to believe that pretender Wayne, in his top legal perch, still hasn't made a huge foul-up. The drama's strange coincidences and unlikely twists are boundless. But The Riches is like a skillful shell game: Even when you know you're being played, the dizzying machinations are irresistible. B+