Judge Brett Cullum is hip and self-deprecating, but he hasn't gotten a cameo on Dirt yet.
Our review of Dirt: The Complete Second Season, published May 11th, 2010, is also available.
Courteney Cox runs a gossip rag, and none of her Hollywood "friends" are safe.
Dirt: The Complete First Season gathers together thirteen episodes that make up the first year of the F/X original series starring ex-Friends lead Courteney Cox. Like her other famous sitcom cast members Lisa Kudrow and Matt Perry, Courteney found an edgy project that looks in to the underbelly and insides of Hollywood. The big difference? The Comeback and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip failed to make it to season two, while Dirt got picked up for another year which debuts in 2008. This one's darker and sexier than what the other Friends alums have chosen, and oddly it is also more shallow with far less intelligence than what the others offered. In the end people like glossy gossip more than the dark tale of a failed sitcom actress or a smart satire of Saturday Night Live. Dirt has no conscience or redeeming value other than it achieves a scummy level of pretty. Courteney looks amazing, the show is well-shot, and there's plenty of gratuitous sex and drugs woven in to the plots. But the big question looming over Dirt is will it ever dig deeper?
Facts of the Case
Courteney Cox (Scream) is the managing editor of a tabloid named Dirt Now (two separate magazines blended together quickly in the series) which targets celebs and makes them look bad. Her character, Lucy Spiller (based on real life Bonnie Fuller who edited US), has an army of lackeys who ferret out the hardcore secrets of the rich and famous. Her secret weapon is a "sometimes functioning" schizophrenic "stalkerazzi" named Don Konkey (Ian Hart, Breakfast on Pluto) who gets great shots, but also has a hard time coping when he forgets to take his medications. Lucy and Ian have their claws into many sources, including a rising celebrity power couple. Holt McLaren (Josh Stewart, Jekyll) is an art-house movie guy trying to get to the next level, and his other half is a hot actress Julia Mallory (Laura Allen, Mona Lisa Smile) who was on an insanely popular sitcom. No fair recognizing the fact their relationship is all too familiar to real-life tabloid targets Courteney Cox and hubby David Arquette (who both executive produce the show). There's also a basketball star caught in incriminating pics with a hooker they hired (played by former Lakers forward Rick Fox), the ghost of a pregnant starlet who overdosed (Shannyn Sossamon, Rules of Attraction), and a myriad of cameo appearances by real-life celebs who want fifteen seconds to show how hip and self-deprecating they are.
Dirt has a lot of things going for it. Courteney Cox is great as the lead, Ian Hart plays crazy well, the show looks awesome, the supporting cast is spot on, and it promises guilty pleasure television with sleaze, sex, and secrets. There are only a couple of problems—the plots are thin and it is aping superior shows. Inspiration for the series came from Courteney Cox and David Arquette's real-life experiences with being hounded by paparazzi during the birth of their first child. You'd think with these two involved the series would be uniquely insightful, but it avoids real life and instead shoots for silly high-gloss melodrama. Dirt aims to be noir with a cast of characters who are all bad in their unique ways, and the viewer is never sure who to root for. Is our hero Lucy Spiller who routinely blackmails celebs, is a man-eater, and never shows a soft side except when it gets her something? Are we to cheer on the mentally disturbed photographer who hides in bushes while hallucinating about his dead cat to snap a picture that could ruin somebody's life? How about all the stars who come off as drug-addled, spoiled brats constantly failing to outwit the tabloids?
Dirt aims to be Entourage mixed together with Nip/Tuck. It aspires to be a dark look at Hollywood and tabloids, but it rings false more often than not. The show rambles on with impressive visuals, but it comes off as a sudsy nighttime soap cast only with characters we're supposed to love to hate. The idea is intriguing; if only they could execute what they promise. Dirt offers a look at the gutter by giving us threesomes, recreational drugs, bisexual antics, oral sex, self-mutilation, blackmail scenarios, and publicity hounds looking for a quick boost to their lame-ass careers. It tries to be preachy, but comes off as pandering. It is the ultimate guilty pleasure because it only offers the basest of elements to keep us engaged. The biggest glee is waiting to see how far the characters will go, and they never fail to disappoint in that department.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Buena Vista released the series and DVD, and they know quite a bit about how to do television on the format right. This is the same company that cranks out Lost, Desperate Housewives, and Ugly Betty, and they've given this one a solid release. Dirt: The Complete First Season comes in a gorgeously designed package that holds four discs in a cardboard fold-out digipak case. Courteney Cox publicity shots in all their airbrushed glory cover everything. The widescreen transfers look wonderful even if they are a touch dark. Stylistically the show demands to be murky, so that's no surprise. There's also some intentional cinematic grain to make the series look more filmic. The five channel stereo mix is crisp and realistic with plenty of edgy alternative rock to underscore the melodrama. Bonus features include an interview with Cox and Arquette on the show's creation, a look at the psycho photographer character, and a look at the real gossip industry, with people like Perez Hilton chiming in for good measure. There's a short gag reel, and a handful of eleven deleted sequences to beef up the package. Also included is a look at the second season, with the head writer discussing how Season Two will be different. These extras aren't in-depth, but they do offer enough to keep things interesting.
As shallow as the plots are, at least the characters are well-structured. Courteney Cox really shines in her role, which is reminiscent of a Hollywood version of her bitchy controlling Gail Weathers character from the Scream movies. She may be in her 40s, but she's still smoking hot and the show allows her to be unabashedly sexual. Ian Hart as the pap who's looney tunes is the male standout, and he's closely followed by Josh Stewart's struggling actor. Everything revolves around the main characters, and they are well-formed even if the shallow end show doesn't give them as much to do as it should. Somehow the characters are better than the story, and they are intriguing enough to tune in for. If you're a fan of Cox then you'll love this one.
Celebrity cameos make this one a hoot as well. Director David Fincher (Fight Club) shows up in the pilot as himself, and later on Jennifer Aniston (Friends) walks in and makes out with Courteney to add some faux lesbian spice to everything. Paul Reubens (Pee Wee) plays a reporter. Vincent Gallo is a hostage-taking former child star. Wayne Brady, Christopher Knight, and Perez Hilton also show up in small single-episode roles designed to add flavor and realism. They don't succeed in making things more real, but they do up the glitter quotient. Surely Cox uses her star power to attract real-life celebs into her salacious series.
You'll gag on the gloss, but at least Dirt is based on intriguing characters. It's not quite as well done as other F/X originals, but it does offer the viewer a voyeuristic trip through a highly stylized Hollywood where everyone is slogging through the wasteland. You may not like anyone in the series, but you'll always be amazed at how far they'll go to get an inch forward or grab a simple piece of ass. You'll want to keep a shower running after every episode, but it does fulfill a certain "guilty pleasure" quotient by sticking to the basest elements one can imagine. The show promises more than it ever delivers, and I wonder if time and a second season will improve its lack of depth. Probably not, because Dirt merely seeks to live up to its name. It's a fun shady look at what we already imagine Hollywood to be like. It revels in its lack of revelation. But hey, it does come in a pretty box with some nice extras. It's entertaining in the same way glossy gossip rags are. Dirt has more smarm than charm, but sometimes that is what you're looking for.
Guilty of aiming low and making it look slick, Dirt is sentenced to a life of crawling through the gutter and faking orgasms along the way. At least Courteney Cox has never looked better.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Buena Vista
• "Celebrity Couple Gets Dirty"--Courteney Cox and David Arquette Interview
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