"Dirt," which debuted last night on FX, should have been a winner. Focused on a cold-hearted editor at a gossip magazine, it's the perfect setup for giddily over-the-top plotlines and fizzy dialogue — like The Devil Wears Prada on speed, or maybe like what would happen if the kids on "The O.C." grew up and moved to Hollywood.
But based on the first episode, "Dirt" is just bafflingly bad. The scandalous sex and special effects that should make "Dirt" edgy just feel sloppy and pointless, and the writing is dull where it should have been frothy and fun.
The show is supposedly all about Lucy Spiller (Courteney Cox), the face behind the two most important magazines in Hollywood: a fluffball mag called Now that makes careers, and Drrt (yes, two "r"s), the gossip rag that breaks them. Lucy's every bit the fiery editrix: She turns every party conversation into a snarky headline and uses a stun gun on a guy she sleeps with when she decides he's using her to get famous. I liked Lucy, and Cox should get kudos for taking on such a tough role — even though her speeches about Real Journalism and her attempts to display emotions beyond "frigid" seemed off. If the show were just about her, I might keep watching. The real trouble with "Dirt" is its messy subplots. To see what I mean,
The first major misstep is with Don Konkey (Ian Hart), a supposedly brilliant photographer who is schizophrenic and off his medication. His illness comes through on screen in a variety of hallucinations: His sick cat talks to him; his words float in the air and crawl away like inchworms; he sees the faces on the Clairol bottles talking to him in the drugstore. It might have been more subtle to have flashing lights reading "Don's Crazy!" on screen, and yet we don't learn anything more about him. "Dirt" was originally written to focus on Don, so I can guess at least we can be thankful that it doesn't.
The other subplot is a classic Faustian dilemma: Floundering actor Holt McLaren (Josh Stewart) overhears some gossip about a young starlet and agrees to sell the story to Drrt in exchange for a puff piece in Now. That starlet then blames Julia, her best friend and Holt's girlfriend, for leaking the story. Because there's no such thing as an overblown metaphor for good and evil, the young starlet overdoses on cocaine, and Holt runs to Lucy to say he's had a change of heart and won't ever work with the devil — er, Drrt — again. Lucy shows him footage of his girlfriend cheating on him and tells Holt no dice: He's one of her sources now.
The story actually gets more ridiculous from there: The starlet dies, and when Holt finds out, he starts driving like a madman across the LA freeways, wrecking his car in a sequence of terrible "Dukes of Hazzard"-ish special effects. He pulls Julia from the wreckage, carries her from the scene as the car explodes in the background, and appears on the nightly news as a "real-life action hero." Oy.
Nobody on "Dirt" seems to have any fun doing what they do — not the actors vying for fame, not Crazy Don, and not even Lucy, who we see at the end of the episode alone in bed, surrounded by larger-than-life proofs of Drrt. "Dirt" could have been my new guilty-pleasure show, but judging from the pilot, there's not a lot of pleasure (guilty or otherwise) in watching it.