I have to admit that I have a sneaky admiration for network television.
I mean, on the one hand, the networks are dying. After decades of dominating America’s free time, network television was pushed aside first by cable and now by streaming services. It’s been a long time since anyone looked to the big four networks in search of ground-breaking entertainment. (Don’t even get me started on the CW.) In many ways, the networks feel like relics of a bygone era. Why structure your life around staying at home on a certain night so that you can catch whatever’s on NBC, ABC, CBS, or Fox when you can just DVR it or watch it online at your own convenience?
And yet, the networks carry on. In the middle of the Streaming Revolution, the networks continue to insist that they’re at the forefront of American culture. “Look,” they say, “We have football! We have the awards shows! We have game shows hosted by formerly funny comedians! We have the smarmiest late night talk shows host around! We have the nightly news!” There’s something oddly touching about the refusal of the networks to admit that they’re no longer particularly relevant. They’re like Charles Foster Kane, isolated away in Xanadu and insisting that he’s still as powerful and important as he’s always been.
I guess that’s why I’m always fascinated by the start of a new television season. That never-say-die spirit just appeals to me and I always imagine a bunch of network executives saying, at the start of each season, “This time, we’re going to show Netflix and HBO how it’s done!” With the Emmys now over and done with, the 2020-2021 network television season has begun. For me, It’s always interesting to see which shows become a surprise hit and which shows end up getting cancelled after just three weeks. Oddly enough, the previous television season brought us no real hits and only a few dramatic cancellations. That’s the first time I can remember anything like that happening. It was strange.
This new season is also going to be strange because, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, production on a lot of shows were halted. Of the few new dramas and sitcoms that are scheduled for this season, the majority of them are starting in October. Even once the season does get started in earnest, most nights are going to be dominated by celebrity-themed games shows and reality competition programming. That said, I remain an optimist. Surely, there will be at least one good new drama or sitcom on network television this season, right?
Well, it probably won’t be Filthy Rich.
Filthy Rich, which premiered on Fox on Monday night, is the latest primetime soap opera. It’s a show about a wealthy Southern family that owns a Christian television network. When the patriarch of the family is killed in a plane crash, it leads to all of his bastard children coming out of the woodwork so that they can get their inheritance and blah blah blah. It’s meant to be campy and over-the-top and satirical but, judging from the pilot, it just tries too hard. Kim Cattrall plays the scheming matriarch and her erratic southern accent serves to remind that us that Kim Cattrall doesn’t exactly have the greatest range as an actress. Meanwhile, none of the children are really that interesting and even the big, ornately decorated mansion seems rather dull. It’s all a bit too calculated to be genuinely subversive.
With its portrait of scheming rich people and Christian hypocrites, Filthy Rich feels like the edgiest show of 1999. Unfortunately, it’s airing in 2020 and, at this point, we’ve all seen enough Ryan Murphy productions to be able to guess every single thing happens in the pilot for Filthy Rich. (Admittedly, Filthy Rich is not actually a Ryan Murphy production. Instead, it was developed by the director of The Help, Tate Taylor.) There’s not a single surprise to be found. The show seems to think that it’s blowing our minds but, at this point, it takes more than a supporting character smoking weed to be shocking. What would have made Filthy Rich better? It probably would have helped if it had aired on HBO or maybe even FX. Instead, it’s a primetime network show that tries hard to convince us that it’s edgy when it’s actually totally mundane.
Anyway, it’s hard to imagine Filthy Rich surviving against Dancing With The Stars and The Voice so hopefully, everyone involved will move on to better things.