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by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r &

The Riches

(Mondays, 10 pm, FX)

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he great trick The Riches pulls is taking America's chief cultural export, our sense of cloistered suburban normalcy, and refracting it until it seems strange to us.

Wayne Malloy (Eddie Izzard) and his wife Dahlia (Minnie Driver) are Travelers, gypsies of the American South. They survive by scamming normal folks, pejoratively referred to as "buffers." They have an RV, a patriarchal family structure and three darling kids.

All is not well, though: Dahlia is royalty, which makes Wayne an interloper. His inability to gain power and acceptance through the family structure has created in him a desire to take risks, grifting and scamming bigger marks than he can handle.

This reckless streak landed Dahlia a two-year stint in the state pen, with the show opening hours before her release. Prison hasn't treated her well. She looks isolated, frightened and tired of life. She's picked up a fairly wicked meth problem. Worst of all, she has cornrows. On Driver, this is a harrowing sight.

After two years of little contact with Dahlia's clan, Wayne isn't ready to toe the line -- which leads, by and by, to the family stealing a boatload of cash, being chased by the family, getting involved in the death of an upper-middle-class couple and coming to rest in the dead couple's new house in a gated community in Louisiana. For lack of other options, they masquerade as the dead family. They enroll the kids in school. Wayne weasels his way into the head spot on a developer's legal team. They begin to deal with the residue of the American dream in sweet, dark hour-long segments.

There are ex-wives to deal with and problems with prescription pills. There's a country-club hierarchy to find one's spot within. Though living pickpocket-to-mouth out of an old Winnebago, on the road the family at least had a sense of purpose. Here they're adrift in a life that feels aimless. The Riches is a fascinating, imperfect show. Izzard is great, Driver is better than she's ever been, and the show holds the promise of explaining this American life from without (the way Desperate Housewives failed to explain it from within). We aren't quite there yet -- unevenness and lack of focus dull what should be razor insights -- but the show's off to a good start.


The Shield

TV's hardest cop show is back, starring the dude who used to be TV's softest police commissioner. Michael Chiklis plays bad cop as well as he played good cop and Forest Whitaker's right eye is looking lazier than ever. Glad to see the Oscar-winner sticking around. Without him playing off Chiklis, the show would founder. (Tuesdays, 10 pm, FX)

The Tudors

You've never seen Henry VIII looking this svelte except in like one or two portraits from before he became a Brando-style problem eater. Jonathan Rhys Meyers' pouty-ass lips and tousled hair lead a cast of literally several British actors as they sexy up the king who Protestantized England. (Sundays, 10 pm, Showtime)

American Idol

Howard Stern wants to ruin the show by destroying its credibility via But we say: What credibility? Kelly Clarkson? That's five years ago, son. Cowell and company dropped all pretense of cred just after Ruben Studdard won. The show, nay, phenomenon has flourished. Ten percent of Americans watch this bi-weekly extravaganza. Shouldn't you? (Tuesdays, 8 pm; Wednesdays, 9 pm; Fox)

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