Heavy is the head that wears the crown. For a drama that calls back to that quote in equal parts from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1 and Stormzy’s second studio album, Abby Ajayi’s Riches on Prime Video explores a power struggles within both the Richards family and Richards’ family company after the unexpected death of its patriarch and CEO, Stephan Richards (Hugh Quarshie). With his surviving family already bitterly divided by a literal ocean of differences—two of his estranged children from a previous relationship hail from America; his second family resided with him in England—the new struggle to secure control over the business brings the Richards to an explosive flashpoint. Flaring tensions further, Stephan Richards’ will holds surprises, precipitating an avalanche of personal and professional reveals that change the course of the entire family’s future.
Over six episodes, Riches largely operates as a fizzy workplace drama that spills outside the boardroom, centering high stakes Black capitalism at the core of its identity. Nina (Deborah Ayorinde) and Simon (Emmanuel Imani) come from forcibly self-made backgrounds in New York where they and their mother fled after their father’s departure from the family. In contrast, Nina and Simon’s half siblings from their father’s second marriage to Claudia (Sarah Niles) own strong Black British identities. Alesha, Gus, and Wanda (Adeyinka Akinrinade, Ola Orebiyi, Nneka Okoye) grew up entitled within London on lavish allowances and meandering careers. In the power vacuum left by Richards, Riches underscores the second generation’s power lies with the women—both British and American—over the men. Nina stakes an impressive claim to the company, Flare and Glory, while her stepmother Claudia claws for ultimate control. The oppositional nature of the family’s backgrounds and motivations seeds the season with great texture.
The setting of the series at Flare and Glory grounds the show within the glamor. With the family business centered on Black hair care products and cosmetics, Riches reflects a glitz similar to shows set at fashion magazines; as such, beauty voyeurism and eye candy abound. While the infighting at Flare and Glory provides ample drama over the course of the season, some of the most interesting details of the show stem from studies of privilege’s limitations. Nearly all of the main characters are Black and wealthy, yet from dubious white hangers-on like their lawyer, Gideon Havelock (Brendan Coyle); secretary, Maureen Day (Hermione Norris); and long-term partners, Luke (Paul Forman), the Richards still face underminers. Even sports cars fail to insulate characters from unfair police attention, or predatory investors. The anxiety brought on by wealth’s inability to insulate characters from an inherently racist society pulses strongly.
Riches gives a little bit of everything. A little soap, a little seriousness, a little serial investigation: The show offers the viewer different things depending on mood. It gives sexy romps next to flashes back to challenging childhood memories. There are galas and nightclub bathrooms. If the characters’ journeys mirror the show, life full of wealth is well worth a fight. Riches may make you even question the value in fighting fair. But like the money earned from Flare and Glory, crowns can be a flawless head of hair, or even the head upon your shoulders. The women who win have the smarts. And the flare and glory of winning that crown give Riches’ leading ladies their best accessory yet.
Riches premieres Friday, December 2nd on Amazon’s Prime Video.
Katherine Smith is Virginia-based freelance writer and contributor to Paste Magazine. For her musings on popular culture, politics, and beyond, find her on Twitter @k_marie_smith
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