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Dirt's a hot mess

Dirt's a hot mess

Dirt's Seth Abramovitch breaks down the filthiest and most uninspiring of the spring's television offerings.

It takes three episodes for Dirt, FX's original series about Hollywood gossip journalism, to elicit anything resembling a genuine and palpable reaction. The scene involves Don Konkey (British actor Ian Hart), a resourceful celebrity shutterbug who suffers from schizophrenia, placing his pinkie in the way of a truck's automated folding ramp. It's his last ditch effort to penetrate a hospital that contains a pop star suffering from that favorite publicist diagnosis, "exhaustion." The graphic sequence is startling mostly for its utter gratuitousness. Even Don's boss, ruthless tabloid editor Lucy Spiller (Courteney Cox, the show's executive producer) can't help but mention with a curious, frigid detachment how out of character it seems.

If only it were Dirt's first such desperate attempt at nudging its audience awake. By the time that finger bounces to the ground, we have already seen L.A.-Laker-turned-actor Rick Fox portrayed as a basketball player (big stretch) on the receiving end of an escort's strap-on. That Fox would subject himself to this--wearing an ear-to-ear smile, no less--should settle any questions you may have about how badly he wants to be on TV. But it's not just Fox who's willing to do some dirty work. We also become reacquainted with our beloved Monica in ways we never imagined, particularly in one scene Friends' writers might have dubbed, "The One About the Slimline Turbo Glider."

All of these "shocking" developments are clearly a stab at the jaw-dropping sequences Nip/Tuck manages to pull off without appearing to strain its dramatic sutures. But on Dirt they come off as painfully self-conscious, a momentary distraction from the show's naked truth: Writer/director Matthew Carnahan lazily conceived a series and is seemingly content to trot out a mind-numbing procession of cliches about the paper-thin show business and publishing worlds. Yes, yes, all actors are miserable drug addicts, all tabloid writers are loathsome blackmailers, and all interaction between the two involves the barter of salacious information in exchange for favorable media coverage. Yawn.

If you're left with a gnawing suspicion that Don's severed digit probably contained more talent than all of the creative minds behind Dirt combined, you're not alone. Hart is a kinetic and imaginative actor who's likely to be one of the few to emerge from this series with his reputation intact. That's quite a feat, considering the fact that Don's personal journey--accompanied by jarring Tourette's-like tics--sits so uncomfortably alongside the show's leaden take on the business of celebrity exploitation.

Faring far worse is Shannyn Sossamon, who plays bland actress Kira. Her unwanted pregnancy and fatal overdose in the pilot episode turn out to be her character's high points. She returns in subsequent installments in ghoulish make-up and a wardrobe pulled entirely from the Courtney Love Babydoll Collection to haunt Don's conscience. The moment she rises from her crematorium-bound casket is a scene to make Ed Wood's heart swell. Also failing to emerge unsoiled is Laura Allen as a sitcom star whose main conflict revolves around the discomfort of a lower-back injury in addition to her actor-boyfriend (Josh Stewart), who by the second episode is nodding off in a heroin- or script-induced stupor. Or, perhaps he's been visiting Garbo (Carly Pope), the show's attempt at streamlining the lesbian and drug dealer archetypes into one hybrid token character. We can only hope her limited participation until now will later evolve into some hot girl-on-girl-on-glass pipe action.

By the final moments of Episode 3 (subtly titled "Ovophagy" after the phenomenon of fetal sharks consuming their siblings in the womb), when diminutive, closeted action star Jack Dawson (Grant Show) plants one on the lips of Lucy's bisexual brother Leo (Will McCormack), then falls to his knees to service him, Dirt has long since reached the bottom of its bag of dirty tricks.

Real dirt done right has three things going for it: It's dumb, it's fun, and it manages to remain one step ahead. In Dirt's case, one out of three ain't good.

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Seth Abramovitch