FX, home of some of the most distinctive series on television, rings in 2007 with another show that looks and feels like almost nothing else on screen. Dirt is a stylish peek inside the sausage factory of celebrity, and Courteney Cox gives a seriously strong performance in the role of a tabloid editor.
Watching the first three episodes, though, I get the feeling that like another FX show, Nip/Tuck, Dirt will be a love-it-or-hate-it proposition for most viewers. And, frustratingly, I can't decide which side to take.
Here's the thing: Dirt has some really good things in it, particularly the performances of Cox as tabloid editor Lucy Spiller and Ian Hart (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) as her go-to photographer, Don Konkey. But while parts are magnetic, others had my thumb hovering over the fast-forward button; professional duty was about all that kept me from skipping ahead.
Lucy is the editor of two magazines that traffic in celebrity culture: the venerable, middle-of-the-road Now and the gleefully trashy Drrt (that's not a typo). The character is of a piece with The Shield's Vic Mackey and Rescue Me's Tommy Gavin: You don't like her, exactly, but her personality is so forceful that you can't help but be drawn to her, all the more so when she flashes the occasional hint of real emotion.
Cox (who's also an executive producer of Dirt) pulls all this off with aplomb. Lucy is about as far from her Friends character, Monica, as can be imagined, and like former TV husband Matthew Perry on Studio 60, she shows off some real acting chops here. Maybe there was more to that other show than just capturing a cultural moment.
It's also a little fascinating to watch Cox, who's been hounded by a paparazzo or two in her time, play a character who, if real, would pretty much be the bane of Cox's existence. You can imagine her famous pals calling her on the carpet for even hinting that Lucy might have actual feelings.
Those are most evident in her relationship with Don, a functioning schizophrenic (sometimes more than others) who's also especially adept at getting the shots no one else can. Hart's alternately skeevy and heartbreaking turn as Don is probably the best thing about the show, and the way Lucy looks out for him can be touching, until you realize that he doesn't really get the thanks he deserves for saving her professional butt time and again.
If the show stayed on Lucy and Don more than it does, I'd probably be more in the "love" camp with Dirt. But it overreaches some and the results are, for lack of a better word, muddy (apologies for being the 438th critic to use that turn of phrase). The show lingers for extended periods of time on struggling actor Holt McLaren (Josh Stewart, Third Watch), who's turned to Lucy for a career boost, and his more-famous girlfriend Julia Mallory (Laura Allen, The 4400), and to a lesser extent on a star athlete (ex-NBA player Rick Fox) with a predilection for non-traditional sex, and in doing so grinds almost to a halt.
I understand the need to dwell a little on some of Drrt's subjects, but the ins and outs of how a public persona is made frankly aren't that interesting. The scandal-o'-the-week stories in each episode work a little better, in that they're more about the people covering them than the actual subjects. If tabloid culture is about objectifying celebrities, as Dirt seems to suggest, this approach seems to make more sense.
I imagine I'll keep watching Dirt for a while, primarily to enjoy Hart and Cox. I also suspect my fast-forwarding thumb might get a workout in future episodes.