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Riviera is a well shot, gorgeously lit drama set among the rich elite in the sun soaked beauty of France. Money, greed, intrigue and a great mystery certainly set Riviera up to be a very good show and for the first 5 episodes or so it is. The second half of the season abandons the carefully crafted story and good work in favour of an action-packed, cliché riddled thriller that abandons characterisation and rational plotting for explosions and big action pieces. It’s a real shame too as Riviera has promise, especially with such a breathtaking setting, but its squandered by an ill-timed, poorly implemented pace and tone change Riviera never recovers from.
The story begins with Georgina (Julia Stiles), a confident, independent woman whose billionare husband Constantine (Anthony LaPaglia) is killed unexpectedly in a yacht accident. What follows is a crusade from Georgina as she tries to find out exactly what happened that night and whether Constantine might be hiding something from her. The first set of episodes deal with this mystery well, unravelling secrets at a steady pace as dissent grows among the family members. With the police growing in suspicion and a mysterious survivor from the yacht accident lurking in the shadows, Riviera has a lot of promise early on.
The methodically slow episodes take their time to get to the meat of the mystery, instead focusing on the gorgeous locations and family issues in detail. With Constantine’s three children all torn and dealing with grief, Step Mum Georgina struggles to keep the family unit intact as more secrets are uncovered over the episodes that threaten to tear the family apart.
Had the entire season managed to remain this consistent, Riviera could easily be a very good drama and although it is still entertaining, the strange decision to change the tone and pace of the show midway through to an all out action thriller is jarring and makes for quite a disjointed watch. The final episode also ends with one of the strangest, out-of-place plot twists I’ve seen in a series for quite some time and without giving too much away, raise serious questions around whether there will be a second season if so, what direction the show is likely to take.
Although these fast paced episodes are exciting and feature some pretty shocking twists, the tonal shift is still a tough one to swallow and makes for quite the jarring watch after growing accustomed to the specific style used in the first half. Visually, Riviera is gorgeously shot and the saturated colour palette complements the focus on paintings and art work. There’s a real energy and vibrancy to the cinematography, helped by a strong on-screen performance by Julia Stiles as Georgina at its heart keeping everything together. Her constant wardrobe changes do seem a little excessive at times but given the thematic focus on money and greed, makes sense given the context of the series.
Despite beginning with promise and optimism, Riviera ends with disappointment and an unsatisfying conclusion. The rushed plot threads, lack of characterisation and clear motivation for some of the characters put a damper on what’s otherwise a very solid first half of the season. Riviera is still exciting though and some of the climaxes at the end of episodes are incredibly tense. Boasting gorgeous visuals and slick camera work, this thriller is as beautiful as it is flawed making for a really torn view overall. There are redeeming features here but most of the good work put into the first half is squandered in a lacklustre, plot hole ridden action finale that disrupts the flow of the series.
Verdict - 4/10