ALEX CHADWICK, host:
Filth on TV. Tonight, the premier of “Dirt”, it's the latest mega-hyped series from the TV network FX. “Friends” grad Courtney Cox is executive producer and star, but TV critic Andrew Wallenstein says all this hype and the star are not enough to keep “Dirt” from getting buried.
ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: On paper, “Dirt” seems to have it all.
(Soundbite of office sounds)
WALLENSTEIN: The big star in Cox, a juicy subject like celebrity tabloids and a great network like FX - home to quality dramas like “The Shield.” And yet “Dirt” is a disaster, the kind of bomb Hollywood occasionally serves up even when all the right pieces are seemingly in place. There is so much wrong with this drama, I hardly know where to begin.
But let's start with Cox. She is completely miscast as Lucy Spiller, the manipulative editor of a pair of magazines with which she ruins the lives of fictional celebrities. It's a role that calls for vampish villainy, but Cox is so wooden. Sitcom icons often try to shed their image by playing against type, but she just comes across as bored. Yet Lucy also seems to have an inflated sense of her journalistic mandate, as we hear in this scene where she explains her philosophy to an underling at her magazine.
(Soundbite of TV show, “Dirt”)
Unidentified Woman: I thought we could do like a think about her struggle with addiction and…
Ms. COURTNEY COX (Actor): (As Lucy Spiller) Right, her struggle. Okay, listen. There is actual reporting involved in what we do. Our readers want to know that people actually screw up and that they actually sleep with hookers and that they lie. So, no, friend of a friend - that would be gossip, and gossip is what lands you in court. The only real defense we have is the truth, preferably with photos.
(Soundbite of laughter)
WALLENSTEIN: Perhaps the most mystifying element of “Dirt” is a meaty subplot devoted to a schizophrenic paparazzo who doesn't take his meds, played by Ian Hart. Scene after scene is devoted to bringing his hallucinations to life, including a pet cat who talks to him and a stroll interrupted by raining blood. Naturally, his editor is concerned, as we hear in this scene.
(Soundbite of TV show, “Dirt”)
Ms. COX: (As Lucy Spiller) Don, are you taking your medication? Don, have you been in touch with Doctor Shabov(ph)? Because I cannot go to the pharmacy for you.
Mr. IAN HART (Actor): (as Don Kinney) (unintelligible) Sorry.
Ms. COX: (As Lucy Spiller) Can you still do the work?
Mr. HART: (as Don Kinney) Yes.
Ms. COX: (As Lucy Spiller) Are you sure? Do you want me to get someone to cover the premier.
JOHN: No, I got it.
WALLENSTEIN: Rendering his hallucinations real makes for some interesting visuals, but also raises a question: What on earth does it have to do with the operations of a tabloid? The story of this schizophrenic shutterbug feels like an entirely separate but equally dreadful show stapled on to the original one. And yet this subplot is annoyingly inescapable in “Dirt,” like a magazine crammed with subscription cards.
What makes the disaster that is “Dirt” most unfortunate is that the world it depicts is so ripe for the right treatment. The national obsession over celebrity-driven media is barely broached in light comedies like HBO's “Entourage.” And why a reality show hasn't gone behind the scenes at one of these magazines is beyond me. But “Dirt” squanders a great opportunity to be the dark satire it should have been with ridiculously flat writing and an inconsistent tone. Maybe “Dirt” was intended to be one of those tawdry indulgences that are so bad they're good, like “Showgirls.” But truth be told, it's just really, really bad.
(Soundbite of music)
CHADWICK: Critic Andrew Wallenstein is an editor at the Hollywood Reporter.
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