Sun-drenched melodrama Riviera (Sky Atlantic) was making its “highly anticipated return”, so trumpeted the publicity material, splashed everywhere from the London Underground to British Airways lounges. Well, it wasn’t highly anticipated by me. The debut series in 2017 was chic but charmless. A jet-set Eurosoap about a super-rich family in the south of France, it was all superficial style and no narrative substance. Some went so far as to describe it as “Dynasty sur mer”, although it wasn’t as much camp fun as that sounds.
Bafflingly, however, it transpired to be the channel’s most successful original drama ratings-wise, with 2.3 million viewers per episode. Since then, Sky’s drama output has been on the up – see recent gems Chernobyl, Save Me and Patrick Melrose – so perhaps Riviera had raised its game too? Judging by the opening double-bill, the answer was a resounding “non”. Forget the Côte d’Azur, this was the Côte du Snore.
TV’s youngest widow and least convincing art curator, Georgina Clios (Julia Stiles), sashayed back into high society, fresh from stabbing her psycho stepson and tossing his corpse into the Med. By the end of the first episode, someone else had been bloodily slain. The French Riviera must have a murder rate to rival Midsomer.
Juliet Stevenson (matriarch with a dark secret) and Poppy Delevingne (honeymooner with a dark secret) had joined the ensemble cast, channelling Kathy Bates from Misery and Gwyneth Paltrow from The Talented Mr Ripley respectively. This was a world of gold-leaf facials and stud auctions, of VIP art installations and rippling infinity pools, where flirtation meant two spoilt socialites smashing up antique vases while panting and pouting at each other. Everyone wore all-white outfits to show off their teak tans and because when you’re this minted, who cares about coffee stains?
Riviera has pretensions to be a televisual Bond film, down to its torch-song theme tune, grandiose title sequence, glamorous locations and bikini-clad femme fatales. Champagne flowed like l’eau and clichés flowed even faster. “Your father’s shoes are a mighty big pair to be stepping into,” purred an oligarch’s widow to his unworthy heir, who pretty much burst into tears and stomped off to rehab.
Every moneyed mode of transport was ticked off: supercar, superyacht, helicopter, thoroughbred horse. This wasn’t so much a compelling drama as a glossy lifestyle catalogue. One character whined, “A wild boar has decimated our olive grove”, which was the definition of #firstworldproblems.
Meanwhile, Stiles made for a curiously unengaging protagonist. Blank-faced and monotonal, she was presumably intended to be enigmatic, but instead sucked the life off the screen. Indeed, amid all the pampered beauties and stubbly playboys, it was hard to find anybody to like, let alone root for. By the end, I was willing that rampaging boar to decimate the lot.