Given Hollywood’s love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with celebrity photographers, I’m a little surprised it took the industry so long to make a TV series about paparazzi. Leave it to envelope-pushing FX, though, to burrow deep into the tabloid trash heap and come up with the intermittently entertaining sleaze-fest that is “Dirt.”
Courteney Cox returns to television after her long, career-defining role on “Friends.” Channeling her anything-for-ratings TV reporter from the Scream series, Cox plays Lucy Spiller, a beautiful but remorseless magazine editor who trolls the parties of Hollywood hunting for nasty gossip to fill up her two supermarket publications. Under her employ are assorted other questionable personalities, including a “functional schizophrenic” photographer (Ian Hart) who takes pictures of naked stars and talks to his dead cat.
“Dirt” does offer an interesting setup. Lucy, you see, operates two magazines. Now is a glossy magazine along the lines of People. Drrt, on the other hand, is your basic National Enquirer-type scandal sheet. By offering pretty photos and fluffy coverage in Now, she’s able to blackmail actors and the like into feeding her grubby little secrets for Drrt. I have no doubt that Hollywood’s publicity machine operates under just such a system of give and take.
Much as movie stars complain about the paparazzi, you know they’d complain 10 times more if photogs weren’t lurking behind every potted palm in Beverly Hills to snap their photo. “Dirt” at least does a good job of admitting this symbiotic relationship. What it doesn’t do so well is provide an access point for ordinary viewers. There’s really no one to sympathize with on this show. Everyone is mean and shallow and involved in all sorts of unseemly behavior.
Like “Nip/Tuck,” which shares a similar “dark” and “edgy” appeal, “Dirt” packs as much sex and sleaze as the basic cable network censors will allow. A young Catholic actress (Shannyn Sossamon) gets pregnant and ODs on coke. A “family”-oriented basketball players is caught receiving a ... um, off-the-rim shot from a prostitute. Heck, even Lucy gets in on the action, boinking a musician she picks up in a bar.
The show tries to build a running soap-opera-ish storyline by following both the magazine staff and its targets. A young actor (Josh Stewart) whose star is fading takes Lucy up on her offer to rat out his friends. The basketball player with the kinky sex drive tries to keep his family in the dark. It’s a mixed lot of clichés (Stewart), over-the-top performances (Hart) and potentially interesting characters (Cox).
There are a few hints that Lucy’s icy man-eater exterior might have a crack or two. So far, though, they’re only hints. A little more effort to humanize this Prada-wearing wicked witch would go a long way toward making the show pleasant. As it stands, this shallow, grime-filled series is, at best, a guilty pleasure.