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Television that Home Video Forgot: The Knights of Prosperity (2007)
After reflecting on the life of his recently deceased plumber coworker, Eugene Gurkin realizes that he wants to get more out of life, and decides to steal from the rich and famous in order to get it. He enlists his plumbing colleague, a cab driver, a security guard, and a waitress to achieve the goal. Together they decide on a target, Mick Jagger, which begins a series of foolishly constructed schemes to break into the rock star’s NYC high rise apartment.
The series is essentially a drawn out heist being attempted by a set of dimwitted, downtrodden delinquents. The show is set in modern day, but is tinged with a retro 1970s sensibility, along with exploitative crudeness for good measure. The episodes are serialized, with a single mission being executed within each episode. These misfits are individually highlighted during some escapades, giving some characters depth at times, but throughout the series, the main concern the show maintains is moving the narrative along, with heightened humor that often leaves the cast coming off as one dimensional caricatures.
Show creators Rob Burnett and Jon Beckerman began developing The Knights of Prosperity after their NBC television series Ed, starring Tom Cavanagh, went off the air, which continued the duo’s collaboration with David Letterman’s company. The initial concept of the series involved a misfit group of low level working class individuals who would steal from the wealthy elite, and had cast Jeff Goldblum in the role of their first target. After the pilot of Goldblum’s NBC series Raines got picked up, the plans for the show, which would have been titled Lets Rob Jeff Goldblum, changed, and the show cast Mick Jagger as their new target. Although the series had been originally announced as Lets Rob Mick Jagger, the title was debuted as The Knights of Prosperity, and the show debuted as a midseason premiere after a few scheduling changes. The show had hefty competition upon its release, first with the Sugar Bowl, and later on with ratings juggernaut American Idol, which absorbed more than half of its premiere ratings. The series was taken off the schedule after a time slot change that did little to improve their ratings, and then returned months later to air the final episodes that had been produced. Only two episodes aired before it was taken off the air one final time, with ABC releasing the entire season on their ABC.com streaming website. The series did not have that many opportunities to make an impression, and now it remains as a seldom thought of sitcom on the outskirts of obscurity.
The first thing to commend this series on is its very fun retro 1970s sounding theme song, which was produced by Paul Shaffer. One of the driving factors that made this series unique is the type of situational comedy it was. In essence, it was a retro throwback to 1970s heist conventions, with the humor being mined by the buffoonery of the ensemble’s lack of skill, and having them succeed despite themselves. The ensemble cast is also fairly diverse, featuring an African American, a Latina, an Iranian, an Irish American, and an Italian American performer. Although the early episodes began the series from a standpoint of stereotypical portrayals of these characters, as the season continued, the later episodes focused more on circumstantial based humor, rather than juvenile jokes of misunderstanding of race and sexual orientation. The characters, for the most part, are never mean-spirited, and are very likable, with goals that they see as altruistic. The thing that unites this band of misfits the most is their working class status as plumbers, waitresses, taxi drivers, or bodyguards. There is also an underlying theme of the American dream and what they are willing to do to achieve that dream, by working hard at robbing someone else who doesn’t appreciate their wealth, and therefore doesn’t deserve it.
The cast is led by Donal Logue, who always excels at portraying the likable slob with ambitions that overextend his reach types, such as the average Joe speechmaker Eugene. Throughout the series, he gets a lot of good monologues to rally the troops, as well as displaying plenty of longing looks for the only woman that is in The Knights of Prosperity, Esperanza, played by Sofia Vergara. On this show, Vergara is given a bit of a stereotypical back story, where she is trying to escape from a Colombian crime lord husband, but aside from that, she really shines as a comedic performer here. The team’s number two is Lenny Venito as Francis, a shifty looking wise guy that serves as both Eugene’s confidant and detractor, when it doesn’t serve his interests. One of the more offensive characterizations comes in the Gourishankar Subramaniam role, played by Maz Jobrani, who is a cab driver that has had several estranged children in his time in America. Then there is Rockefeller Butts, played by Kevin Michael Richardson, who has a deep voice and large build, and the series often dresses him up in track suits, recalling fashion of the blaxploitation era. The show does its hardest to make these stereotypes appear in as lighthearted a tone as possible, but it doesn’t always work. The series works best when it’s not taking shots at race and gender politics, but instead focusing on the misguided planning of their heists.
The show also mines humor from their meeting location, which appears to be an abandoned Jewish products warehouse. In one episode, Logue tries to salvage a cover story of one of his schemers by pretending he runs the Jewish warehouse, and places a coffee filter on his head as a Yarmulke. It’s foolish, and would’ve been insulting if that ruse fooled anyone, and gratefully it did not trick the mark, but instead, the stakes were so low at this time that it wasn’t even necessary. Part of what makes the group’s luck so fruitful is how unassuming they are because of their working class status, and the show draws a lot of its comedy and interesting turns from that.
The series in the later half improved vastly in a lot of ways once they stopped trying to rob Mick Jagger and moved on to different targets. Their second target was Kelly Ripa who, in a very funny turn, Eugene ends up falling in love with and decides not to steal from. Kelly Ripa plays a version of herself that is a bit naive, but mostly bubbly and good natured, which is a very different role than she had played in a recent cameo. The Ray Romano character in particular had some very funny moments, with him trying to move away from comedy by doing off Broadway plays featuring him as a drug addict. As the season closed, the narrative began to turn its humor more towards celebrity skewing and white collar crimes, and it would’ve been interesting to see where they would’ve taken things with a second season.
The Knights of Prosperity never had a fair chance in 2007, with its competition being so hefty, and no following to make it a series of note. There are many shows that go unseen and are lost, and this show appears to be one that has been well forgotten. But it’s not a terrible show, and it had potential for some really fun areas to explore if it had continued, with more celebrities to skewer and more episodic shenanigans that are different from the average hang out comedies that happen to populate the TV landscape as of late.
After the series, Rob Burnett and Jon Beckerman went on to produce an independent film called We Made This Movie in 2012, and are currently working on a film adaptation of the Jonathon Evison novel The Revised Fundamentals of Care Giving, set to release in 2016.
Donal Logue has had many roles since his time on the series, including Life and Terriers. Currently, he is a regular on FOX’s Gotham.
Sofia Vergara went on to appear on Dirty Sexy Money and Men in Trees, and broke out in the ensemble cast series Modern Family.
There is no home media release of this show, nor are any full episodes available for streaming or download. There are a scant amount of video clips of the show scattered about on youtube.