I have recently started watching the show The Riches because I am out of great shows to watch. Unfortunately this show was canceled after two seasons and so when I get to the end I am sure it will be incomplete and leave me frustrated, but until then I will continue to watch and get sucked into this family’s story. It doesn’t have to be the best show ever to get me hooked; in fact it takes only a small event or connection in my mind to keep me entertained. For The Riches the hook was that I almost immediately connected it to Petronius’ Satyricon.
The Riches is a show depicting a family of “travelers” they are essentially cons, who after a series of strange events assume the lives of an upper class family living in a wealthy gated community. It is a dramatic series with some comic relief which often comes in moments when they make mistakes which “honest” upper class families would not make. They don’t understand the school system and the price of tuition, the husband impersonates a lawyer and doesn’t know such ordinary things as eminent domain, and they heat up boxed cookies in the microwave to make them seem homemade. In comparison there is a chapter of Petronius’ Satyricon in which a freedman attempts to act as though he is an aristocrat and throws a dinner party (Cena Trimalchionis: Trimalchio’s Dinner). While he is in fact wealthy, he is not old money and does not understand the customs of the upper class. He makes multiple mistakes which make it very clear to the reader (at the time of release the only readers would be aristocrats themselves) that he is not from a long line of wealthy men. In the entrance to his home there are scenes of himself instead of the norm which would be to have pictures of his ancestors. All of these paintings depict Trimalchio with a different divine spirit helping his assent to wealth, a sign to the reader, and possibly his visitors, of his questionable past.
The process of providing a social commentary through the lens of a lower class character who finds himself among the upper class is shown through both this ancient work and this show. The Riches modernizes this old commentary showing the seedy underside of the wealthy. Petronius contrasted the meek existence of the illiterate lower class with the ostentatious ways of the upper class. The Riches instead shows that rich people are just poor people with money. There are drug problems and marriage problems among the rich. The high class neighborhood consists mostly of “legal” criminals. In fact the traveler life that this family left is not much different than the life they landed in. Through time the problems seen in the stratification of society change, but there are always problems to be displayed. Whether it be Petronius or Eddie Izzard, it is nice to see that the problems aren’t being ignored. Classicists, I suggest watching this show just to see the connection. For those who are fans of the show, I suggest reading Petronius (at least the Trimalchio chapter).