I wish I could say that the image of Courteney Cox hugging a schizophrenic man who has his dead cat strapped to his back was a good thing. On another series, it might have been. Unfortunately, Dirt, exec-produced by Cox and her husband, David Arquette, is packed with jarring, discordant scenes, none of which add up to anything but jarring, discordant scenes. It’s the dramatic equivalent of a bunch of sticky toddlers haphazardly banging piano keys.
Cox stars as Lucy Spiller, the ambitious editor of a pair of celebrity-gossip magazines. Spiller is driven: She coerces one rising actor (Josh Stewart) into turning informer for her; she blackmails a married basketball star (Rick Fox) with infidelity photos; she sends her schizophrenic paparazzo pal, Don (Ian Hart), he of the ex-cat, to get snapshots of all the naughty deeds.
It should be fun, and it isn’t. Cox, with her brittle, brainy persona, never seems to enjoy herself. She’s no Heather Locklear on Melrose, or even Melinda Clarke on The O.C. Worse, her Lucy Spiller isn’t nasty enough to be likable — were Dirt and fellow FX drama Nip/Tuck ever to do a crossover show, Christian Troy wouldn’t even find her a challenging appetizer. Whereas Nip/Tuck benefited (for a while) from yin-yang surgeons — one decent, one a scoundrel — Dirt tries to jam both sides into Lucy Spiller. She blackmails one celebrity, but then turns around and preaches journalistic ethics to her staff: ”We are not running rumors!” she yelps, unironically. At the end of each salacious day, Lucy realizes she has no love in her life; this is underscored by repeated shots of Cox in bed alone, often with a vibrator. Ah, the loneliest journalist.
The subplots featuring Cox’s schizophrenic buddy, Don, are even more confusing. It’s like having someone interrupt your (not very good) nighttime soap and insert a third-tier Sundance flick. These scenes, often riddled with Don’s psychotic episodes, are filmed in Twitch-o-vision for greater effect — everything moves crazily fast or slow. In a nod to Battlestar Galactica’s Baltar–Number Six pairing, perhaps (and why not, in a drama about a gossip magazine?), Don also chats with an unseen companion — a dead, possessive, pregnant starlet (Shannyn Sossamon) who OD’d as a result of one of the magazine’s stories. Perhaps it’s meant as a commentary on guilt. Or on the surreal world of celebrity. My guess is someone just thought it’d look totally awesome.
Dirt should have been a clever, slick drama packed with inside jokes and whip-smart dialogue — an Entourage of celebrity tabloids, with characters that are just as gleeful about their inside pass as Vince and E and the gang. Instead, Dirt is merely a big mess.