Filthy Rich was nothing to laugh at in 2016, but with US remake, who's laughing now?

FOX
The US version of Filthy Rich is a remake of the NZ-made drama and will be set in America's South.

OPINION: We took turns, having a go.

A quick jab here, a well-aimed boot there, no shortage of slaps around the ears.

The nation's professional TV critics did not like New Zealand-made "high-end soap" Filthy Rich one bit.

We criticised its look, its feel, its clunky dialogue.

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We disparaged its outdated concepts and thinly-drawn characters.

We whinged about the gauche lighting and mad wardrobe, the obligatory "edgy" strip club scenes, and the fact that decent actors hadn't been given something far more interesting to do.

We were outraged over the massive drain it had made on the public purse for negligible cultural payback.

Kim Cattrall will headline the US remake of Filthy Rich.
Skip Bolen / AP
Kim Cattrall will headline the US remake of Filthy Rich.

After all, the show's first season was reportedly the most expensive drama ever made in New Zealand, receiving $8.25 million from NZ On Air.

And then, despite sucking like a black hole, Filthy Rich was funded for a second season, to the tune of a further $6.9m.

This was widely seen as a missed opportunity, given that the cash and talent sunk into this slick, glossy lemon could have been deployed across ten smaller, smarter, better series.

Written by Rachel Lang and Gavin Strawhan, Filthy Rich followed the fortunes of the Truebridge family, with three illegitimate siblings conniving over the inheritance of patriarch John Truebridge after his sudden death.

Lang and Strawhan have serious pedigree as screenwriters in this country, having previously given us a swag of post-Outrageous Fortune pot-boilers, among them Go Girls, The Almighty Johnsons, The Blue Rose, Nothing Trivial and This is Not My Life.

But Filthy Rich seemed like the sort of facile cliché-fest you might cobble together when low on fresh ideas.

The original Filthy Rich which aired for two seasons on TVNZ was widely derided.
supplied
The original Filthy Rich which aired for two seasons on TVNZ was widely derided.

The cast was awash with conflicted Christians, hairy West Coast miners, hookers with hearts of gold, sleazy stepfathers. There were caricature villains that almost needed stick-on moustaches to twirl.

There was … zzzzzzzzzzzzz… oh, I'm sorry, I must have dozed off for a minute there.

Filthy Rich screened across two seasons in 2016 and 2017, and both ponged to high heaven.

"Somebody, please… for God's sake, open a window!" I wrote in my notes at the time after watching the first episode. "This stinks!"

I was not alone in this assessment.

Jane Clifton wrote that Filthy Rich had "a promising start" before degenerating into a "not terribly intelligence-affirming Bachelor-grade sort of viewing experience" full of "cartoon goodies and baddies".

The Spinoff's Duncan Greive posited the show as some sort of dark beacon, a putrid pinnacle, symbolic of all the other artistically unadventurous TV dramas that routinely received serious money in this country.

Declaring it "a dated, horny mess", Greive called for NZ On Air's funding criteria to be re-evaluated, bemoaning a stultifying status quo in which "a small group of people get to make what feel like variations on the same solid-yet-unspectacular drama, over and over again, apparently for all eternity."

One online critic concurred, writing "Nothing can save Filthy Rich. I braved all of three minutes and am currently suing the production company for the theft of my time."

The US remake of Filthy Rich has all the right ingredients for a soapy success.
The US remake of Filthy Rich has all the right ingredients for a soapy success.

And me? In a Sunday Star Times column headlined "Epic Fail", I went Jurassic:

"TV2's expensively woeful new drama Filthy Rich lumbered on to our screens 20 years too late: a big, dumb dinosaur in an industry that now favours the quick and the nimble. It was Gloss for 2016, shorn of the humour and big hair. You had to laugh, but in all the wrong places."

But who's laughing now?

Despite disappointing audience numbers throughout its run here in New Zealand, it transpires Filthy Rich had some serious fans after all - it's just that they were on the other side of the world.

Firstly, the show was bought by US streaming giant Hulu, opening up a subscriber base of 12 million potential viewers.

And just yesterday, Fox Television announced they will be screening an American version of the show, starring Sex and The City's Kim Cattrall.

Now, I'll admit I was surprised, but you can sort of picture this, right?

Those with strong stomachs and sound memories might recall a scene, just a few minutes into the opening episode of Filthy Rich, in which Brady Truebridge (played by series standout Miriama Smith) initiates a quick post-workout shag with her personal trainer to the less-than-sultry soundtrack of the TV One news.

Filthy Productions
The second season of Filthy Rich will include some surprises.

Amidst a pile of sweaty Lycra during the throes of passion, Brady learns that her geriatric husband has gone to meet his maker, the sad tidings delivered by newsreader Wendy Petrie.

Clearly, Kim Cattrall could do this kind of thing in her sleep.

Ravaging personal trainers, firemen, passing plumbers, you name it, was the sort of thing Cattrall used to do week in and week out on Sex and The City, where she was cast as the most sexually voracious of her cohort of Cosmo-sipping pals.

And the US version of Filthy Rich has been transposed to the American south, so rather than Lycra and Wendy Petrie, I picture a love-nest of cast-off linen and pleats with some rabidly right-wing Fox commentator banging away in the background.

A Dallas update, with a side order of Southern Comfort? Why the hell not?

The US version of Filthy Rich is being produced by Imagine Entertainment, the powerhouse production company behind TV hits Empire and 24 and films such as A Beautiful Mind.

The Help and Girl on the Train director Tate Taylor is attached, and the crusty patriarch who dies near the beginning is now a shonky TV evangelist, played by Gerald McRaney from House of Cards.

It's easy to see why a bunch on canny Americans might give this a shot.

After all, the original New Zealand original show was weak, but not entirely terrible.

It may have been low on nuance and surprise, but Filthy Rich was stocked to the ceiling with strong female characters, for a start, some of them appealingly ruthless.

You can see why Kim Cattrall might want to sign on for that.

And Filthy Rich produced some arresting visuals.

Witness the opening scene, in which old moneybags John Truebridge plummets from a high-rise into the unforgiving embrace of a parked car, his suitcase of cash bursting open on impact to let loose a millionaire's confetti of cash.

Also, the original concept had merit.

The dog-eat-dog business world in which Filthy Rich was set was ripe with opportunities for skulduggery.

In the hands of a bold writing team, you can imagine being drawn into a web of ever-shifting alliances, power-plays and dramatic double-crosses worthy of The Sopranos.

You have to wonder, too, if this is a show that's somehow found its natural home by moving off-shore.

The big money/ high stakes premise of the original series played strangely in Aotearoa, a nation where we still tell ourselves we're classless and egalitarian despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and where the ostentatiously wealthy are treated with a certain amount of disdain.

When former Labour finance minister Michael Cullen called National Party leader John Key a "rich prick" in Parliament in 2007, he was tapping into both our vernacular and our psyche. People all over the land wanted to buy Mike a beer.

Consequently, we found it hard to warm to the money-grubbing characters in Filthy Rich.

But this sort of dramatic set-up will make a different sort of sense in America, where greed, venality, flashy living and selfishness are frequently openly admired, finding their expression right up the food chain to the highest office in the land.

And to be honest, I'm pleased. The show's original creators, writers and producers deserve this belated blast of positive affirmation.

A show like this being picked up overseas feels like commercial success being wrested from the jaws of critical failure.

The fact that the original show seemed to have so little to say about contemporary New Zealand - how we really think and speak, what we do, the things we care about - was in large part what saw it get so savaged by critics here.

But the more generic and placeless aspects of Filthy Rich are perhaps precisely the qualities that made the concept seem so easily transferable offshore.

Local shows have been remade for international audiences before, of course, with varying degrees of success.

The writers behind Filthy Rich.
SUPPLIED
The writers behind Filthy Rich.

Following its success here at home, Outrageous Fortune was adapted in 2008 for British television as Honest and again in 2010 for US residents as Scoundrels, though neither were renewed after their debut seasons.

And there have been universally strong reviews for the recent American TV remake of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi's comedy vampire flick, What We Do In The Shadows, now transposed from Wellington's Aro Valley to Staten Island. It has just been green-lit for a second season

What next? Gritty Netflix reimaginings of Duggan, Shark In The Park or The Strip?

A more "street" HBO version of Close To Home, retooled for the hip hop generation and set in the Bronx?

CSI Pukemanu? Mortimer's Patch: The Musical?

Just because sniffy TV critics might be a bit snide about a show doesn't mean others can't see potential in it.

In the days before everybody lined up to have a go at Filthy Rich, there was another local show that ran for two seasons despite similar levels of antipathy from cultural commentators.

"Cringeworthy!", they bellowed. "Atrocious!", they trumpeted.

Initially screening in the mid-90s, it was proclaimed "awful", "horrendous", "a disaster", "absolutely ghastly", and appears to this day on a Wikipedia page of the Worst Sit-Coms Ever Made.

But who knows what a bunch of plucky Americans might do with such a show?

I hate to say it, but it is surely high time for a US remake of Melody Rules.

 

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