Set in the South of France, Sky Atlantic's new drama Riviera is about as lavish a TV show as you can imagine, with every cent of its big budget used well on delivering stunning visuals of a part of the world where some of the wealthiest people live. Riviera is also very much an Irish production, with the original idea coming from former U2 manager Paul McGuinness, while the show was created by Irish Oscar winning director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Michael Collins) with Wexford Booker Prize winning author John Banville assisting in script-writing duties.
So yes, with that amount of Irish talent on board, I wanted to love Riviera, to shout from the rafters at what an incredible show it is, but unfortunately, that's not how I felt after watching last night's opening episode. As I said, it looked great, the sprawling beauty of the South of France is shown off incredibly well, and it certainly delivers an insight into what life might be like if we too could just throw €20 million on a painting at the drop of a hat, but something just didn't quite deliver.
Riviera stars Julia Stiles - who you will know from the Bourne movies as well as nineties/noughties hits Save the Last Dance and 10 Things I Hate About You - as Georgina, the wife of billionaire banker Constantine Clios (Anthony LaPaglia). There may be a significant age difference between these two but from the get-go, it's clear they are very much in love - so inevitably disaster is just around the corner. Within the opening minutes, Constantine is murdered on a yacht in what we soon discover was very suspicious circumstances. Turns out, our billionaire banker was - shock, horror - also leading a life of infidelity and corruption on the side.
Georgina however, was none the wiser and gets more of an insight into just who she was married to when talking to Constantine's first wife, Irina (Lena Olin). Georgina's naivety may seem almost irritating in this opening episode, but from what we know of the rest of this ten-part series, she gets over it pretty fast, and the more her eyes are opened to her husband's criminal lifestyle, the more she goes down a road of moral decline and finds herself getting further and further caught up with it. All the makings of TV's next great female anti-hero? Perhaps. Although we're not sure we are even interested enough at this point to stick around to find out.
Riviera so far is a mess of one-dimensional characters and a dialogue that is almost downright cliche at times. (At one point, a character bursts into a room and literally says, "I came as soon as I heard'.) We expected more depth considering the wealth of talent on board behind-the-scenes.
Ultimately, this drama looks and feels like the 'Prestige TV' Sky was trying to make, and all the elements are there - murder, crime, sex - but yet not enough to leave us wanting more, which is typical as this is the first time that Sky has released all ten episodes of a show on the same day (although it will continue to air on Sky Atlantic on Thursday nights).
There are elements I was certainly curious about after the opening episode, first off, the role art will play in terms of how it is priced, sold and the level of fraud that has always existed there - this isn't an area covered by television dramas before so perhaps at least we will get something original there. Also, as a Game of Thrones fan, I can't help but wonder what Iwan Rheon's character will get up to. So far we have just seen him sauntering around that gorgeous mansion and not really particularly upset by his father's passing, but we can only assume there is something juicier on the cards for him down the line, or what a terrible waste of a casting that would be. It will also be interesting to see how well Julia Stiles can play out this inevitable character arc coming her way.
So, there is at least the potential for Riviera to come through a few episodes in, but so far, unfortunately, it's all style and no substance.