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FX's Latest Series is "Dirt" Poor

Oscar Wilde once said, “Man is made for something better than disturbing dirt.” While Wilde may have been speaking of that eternal dirt nap we're all headed for, he may as well been speaking of dirt more metaphorical, of gossip, tabloid, and le grand scandale.

And he might just have been talking about FX's new series Dirt, starring and produced by Courteney Cox Arquette, working overtime to erase Friends' Monica from our collective memory. In Dirt, Cox Arquette plays tabloid editor Lucy Spiller, an uptight control freak who oversees editorial for two publications: supermarket tab Dirt and the more up-market Now magazine. Lucy is dedicated body and soul to her job. We know this (A) because she has no social life whatsoever and lives, sleeps, and dreams her job (not to mention pictures the people around her as a series of cover shots) and (B) because she winds up time and time again in her luxurious bed surrounded by magazine mock ups, unable to escape her life even for a few fleeting moments.

Let me begin by saying that Cox Arquette is stunning to watch, her bird-like features perfectly manage to convey Lucy's precision and determination as well as the frailty that exists just behind her flawless facade. In Lucy, she has found a role to completely escape into and the boundaries that exist between actor and subject seemingly vanish before the audience's eyes. It's clear that she relishes the chance to distance herself creatively and thematically from the canned laughter and joke-pause-punchline routine of Friends and one has to applaud Cox Arquette for taking that leap.

If only the material didn't disappoint her at every turn.

To say that Dirt is messy would be an understatement: its very structure is in a shambles, and the focus is pulled disastrously from Lucy and onto another character far too frequently. Lucy's main support system is paparazzo Don Konkey (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone's Ian Hart), a schizophrenic photographer given to lush hallucinations and talking to dead things. Don, with a name reminiscent of Donkey Kong, is apparently the only paparazzo on staff at Dirt, the series would have you believe, or at least the only one that Lucy can trust with Getting the Pictures, whether that's a red carpet glamor shot or a shot of an actress' corpse seconds before she's cremated. Fortunately, the series' second episode goes a long way in clearing up Lucy and Don's relationship, as they are old friends who attended journalism school together. Lucy apparently climbed to the very top of the masthead, while poor, mentally ill Don still just does the (no pun intended) dirty work. While Lucy is clearly the lead of this piece, it's Don who sidetracks the action in a haze of mental illness, making the entire series far more Serious than it needs to be.

Which is half the problem to begin with. If you're going to set a series in the insane world of celebrity tabloid journalism, you'd better start out with thinking that it's guilty pleasure television, a sort of soapy Melrose Place-esque topsy-turvy world that's fast and furious, yes, but also outright fun. Dirt is nothing of the sort. The show's producers seem to be under the misguided principle that using "clever" ripped-from-the-headlines stories about celebrities faking pregnancies (gee, wonder who that could be in reference too) or overdosing or shooting illicit homemade sex videos innately makes this a fun watch. But it doesn't. Sure, there's more basic cable sex and drug use than you can shake a stick at, but there's nothing remotely fun or clever about it and instead of titillating, it just bores after a while.

Instead, we get a mentally ill photographer who speaks to his dead cat and builds a shrine not only to the departed feline but also to a dead actress, who soon appears to turn up in his bed and open her dead eyes in the coffin. It's jarring and unexpected, yes, but it's also out of place completely with Lucy's story.

Don's delusions and fixations become not only a huge side-track but threaten to derail the entire series. What's so upsetting is that these hallucinations are so beautifully overwrought that one can't help but get caught up in them and they provide a glaring counter-point to what's missing with the rest of the show. One scene in particular--in which Don carries his cancer-ridden cat across a bridge as it begins to rain down blood--is so gorgeous and yet shockingly out of place with everything else, particularly the weakness in some of the acting. Lucy picks up a young stud Cal after exiting a club and they fall into one seriously effed up relationship. Due to the extremely awful (not to mention laughably bad) acting from this unknown actor, it's hard to believe that bartender/aspiring rock star Cal can remember how to mix drinks, much less that Lucy would spy him reading Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past" on a Los Angeles street corner. Ha-bloody-ha, I say.

Additionally, one gets the feeling that Hollywood is comprised of only four or five people, given the fact that week to week, Dirt seems to revolve around not just Lucy and Don, but also Hollywood couple Holt McLaren (Josh Stewart) and Julia Mallory (The 4400's Laura Allen), kinky NBA player Prince Tyreese (Rick Fox), and doomed coke-fiend actress Kira Klay (yes, that is Shannyn Sossamon), who's destined for her own dirt nap at the end of episode 1. Yes, Hollywood is an incestuous, serpentine place but the producers either needed to have included more diverse characters from the get-go, or lost Holt and Julia after Episode 1. As it is, they (along with Don) begin to grate on one's nerves almost immediately.

Reportedly, the series, created by Matthew Carnahan (Fastlane), was intended to focus completely on a mentally unstable paparazzo and other male tabloid insiders, but FX suggested to Carnahan to widen the scope a bit and include a female editor (Cox Arquette's character, natch). The effect is completely apparent as the focus shifts too unsubtly from each and one can tell just from the first few minutes that Dirt is being pulled too strongly in multiple directions.

Which is a shame, as I do feel that there's something worthy of the world of celebrity and tabloid journalism that Carnahan selected to work in. It's a field and an idea that's positively teeming with potential. The sad fact is, however, that Dirt doesn't live up to those possibilities, just its name.

"Dirt" airs Tuesday nights at 10 pm on FX.

What I'll Be Watching

9 pm: Veronica Mars.

On tonight's repeat episode ("Of Vice and Men"), Veronica is disappointed in Keith's relationship with Harmony, but she's got relationship issues of her own as she and Logan have a major fight. Meanwhile, Veronica edges closer to solving the rapist mystery, but ends up drugged by the Hearst College rapist.

10 pm: Doctor Who on BBC America.

While Sci Fi might be airing Season Two of the newest incarnation of Doctor Who (complete with another new Doctor, played by David Tennant), catch up on Season One, beginning anew tonight on BBC America as the Doctor (played by Christopher Eccleston) first meets Rose Tyler for the first time. On tonight's episode ("Aliens of London"), Rose returns to Earth, but finds it on high alert after an alien spacecraft crashes into the Thames. And just what is going on at 10 Downing Street?


rockauteur said…
What ever happened from the first episode of the VM season with Harmony being killed and the Irish dude being lost in the desert (and then shot by his brother)? there wasn't much resolution to this story line...
Anonymous said…
"Dirt" sounds like a good idea that got crushed and confused in the Development Process. Too bad because it seems like it could have been an interesting show.
Liat said…
Please go back and look at Dirt again. I think it's one of the best new shows on, and I love how the characters are growing. It was plastic to start, but it's bedded in really well.
charliepap said…
Having worked in the paparazzi world for approx 8 years, I think Dirt is brilliant, it's the best production of anything around this subject that fills papers and mags everyday that has still not been picked up on TV or film wise to the degree that it could have been.

Don the main pap is totally believable, even the weirdest hallucinations are pretty accurate to some of the characters I have met. Great show looking forward to series 2.

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