The new Fox series “Filthy Rich” goes where not a whole lot of TV shows have gone before — inside a family of believers.
The Monreaux family isn’t just a go-to-church-on-Sunday clan: Religion is their life and their business. They own, operate and star on a hugely successful Christian TV channel, the Sunshine Network, and they’re about to launch their own Christian home shopping service.
However … things take a turn when a plane carrying family patriarch Eugene (Gerald McRaney) — and a couple of young women with whom he was cavorting — goes down in flames. And things start to come unglued when his widow, Margaret (Kim Cattrall), and two children learn that Eugene fathered three other children with three different women. And he wrote them into his will.
Yup. Turns out Eugene was a big ol’ hypocrite.
Yet “Filthy Rich” (Monday, 8 p.m., Fox/Ch. 13) is not anti-religious. It’s populated by people of genuine religious faith, even though they struggle mightily to live up to their ideals.
“We poke fun a little bit at everybody,” said creator/writer/director/executive producer Tate Taylor, who’s perhaps best known as the writer/director of the 2011 film “The Help.” “Everyone’s faith is real, and I didn’t want a Jerry Falwell. I didn’t want the typical trope of the mean, ugly-looking Southern evangelical jackass. … We’re playing extremes, but not clichés.”
To say that the “Filthy Rich” characters are colorful would be an understatement. Margaret might have stepped right out of “Steel Magnolias,” “Dallas” or “Dynasty.” Her daughter, Rose (Aubrey Dollar) is a good girl who wants to rebel. Her son, Eric (Corey Cott), is ambitious and — at the urging of his wife, Becky (Olivia Macklin) and brother-in-law, Rev. Paul Luke Thomas (Aaron Lazar) — wants to take over the family empire.
And then there are Eugene’s other three children. Ginger Sweet (Melia Kreiling) operates a porn site; Jason Conley (Mark L. Young) is a marijuana grower; and Antonio Rivera (Benjamin Levy Aguilar) is an MMA fighter and single father.
(The cast also includes Steve Harris as Monreaux family lawyer Franklin Lee and Deneen Tyler as Norah Ellington, Margaret’s right hand at the Sunshine Network.)
And every single one of these characters has a secret. Or secrets. “Everybody,” Taylor emphasized. “I promise you.”
The show deals “with very serious topics and questions about faith and family and secrets,” said Cattrall, who’s also a producer on the show.
But this is hardly heavy drama. “Filthy Rich” is very much a prime-time soap opera, with flashes of humor. But religion is at the center of the narrative.
Taylor grew up “very religious” in Mississippi, observing how religion was a “part of the fabric” of Southern society even as “things changed.”
“Younger Christians are not like their moms,” he said. “They’ll get drunk and they’ll cuss, and they will teach Sunday school, too.
“But that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. So I’ve often seen that struggle of the older Christians with their daughters, and that’s always been fascinating to me.”
And that was the inspiration for “Filthy Rich.”
“The idea came to me that to have this strong Christian family faced with the most impossible of situations that rocks their faith to the core,” Taylor said. “And you realize that whatever side of the line you are as far as how devout you feel, you are a human.”
It’s not like Taylor made this up out of whole cloth. Not only have a number of evangelists made headlines in sex scandals (including Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart and Ted Haggard), there’s an even longer list of evangelists caught up in financial scandals. And “Filthy Rich,” which was originally scheduled to air earlier this year, completed production before a scandal forced Jerry Falwell Jr. to resign as president of Liberty University.
Cott said there’s something very familiar to him about “Filthy Rich” — and he was “raised” in the church, which was “a big part of his life.” He met his wife when they were both in a church choir.
He acknowledged a “tricky history of Christianity and religion being shown” on TV. Many Christians believe they’re not portrayed often enough and that, when they are, “they’re mocked.”
There’s no arguing that the religious characters in"Filthy Rich" are deeply flawed. But Cott said he found it “captivating to see a really authentic portrayal” of Christians with “all the complications that go into that.”
Characters are actually seen praying — a rarity in scripted TV — and it’s not just for the TV cameras. But, at the same time, Taylor is quick to say, “The show is not pro-Christianity. It’s not about religion. It’s about people who are all very different who otherwise would never speak to each other.”
It’s something he wanted to explore at a time when the country is “so polarized.”
“No one is talking, so to throw this crazy cast of characters [together] and see how they react, that’s important for me,” Taylor said, because he believes “anybody in America could find themselves” in the characters.
“I want them to watch this show and ask themselves, ‘What would I have done in that situation?’” he said. “And then think, ‘Should I act like that?’”