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What I Watched Last Night

Back in the day, the best reason to have cable TV was because it was the only place short of National Geographic and porn theaters where you could encounter profanity, sex, and full frontal nudity all in one place. Without commercials, too. For those of us growing up then, cable was a place more reliable than the gutter to learn about the facts of life, and more accessible than your dad's stash of Playboy and Penthouse. Then, around a decade or two ago, someone shoved a stick up the nation's behind, and before you knew it, we got Al Pacino and Samuel L. Jackson telling everyone "forget you" a few hundred times and the evaporation of the highly pivotal Getting To Know You scene between Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon that explains Bound so well.

Artistically speaking, it just ain't right, you know? It's like Michaelangelo's David. If Mike had intended us to see it wearing pants, he would have sculpted out a pair of Levi's. Which leads me to the pilot episode of FX Network's new, hour-long original series Dirt. For those of us who knew what cable was originally intended to be, it's one more reason we should thank all that's right with the world for whoever's running FX. (That, and the fact that FX is very kind to the TiVo-less, as it repeats its original-program shows a few times throughout the week.)

Dirt centers around the interaction between celebrity and the tabloid press. The series is produced by Courteney Cox, who even people in Bulgaria recognize from Friends, and her husband David Arquette, an actor with a long and substantial - perhaps even amazing - career of being in films that few people with foresight enough to show up early in the day on weekends to rent the really good DVDs can remember the names of. Dirt feels a lot like Melrose Place except it's made for actual grown-ups, filmed better, and contains plenty-enough graphic sex, dope smokin', coke snortin' and pill poppin' to make up for the absence of Heather Locklear.

Whether it's really good is something that will take more than one viewing. That's because the FX shows that are really good (Rescue Me and Nip/Tuck) are unsettling at first - and often repulsive - because they're chock full of characters so simple to follow, given the long trail of unchecked inner demons spilling out their ears wherever they go. But therein lies the attraction (perhaps even the social redemption) that builds such a fan base: every week, you can depend on watching a bunch of people elevate being incredibly fucked in the head into an art form.

So in order to judge these shows fairly, you have to approach them like having sex three times with someone you're either drunk with or mildly attracted to. You try it once to see whether you'd like it, twice to make sure, and a third time to make sure you didn't miss out on anything really, really good the second time.

Cox plays Lucy Spiller, the editor of Dirt magazine, a Hollywood tabloid The Star would be if grew balls and lost what amounts to a conscience in the tabloid industry. Lucy's clearly a conflicted woman. She's tough enough to taser her previous night's casual-sex pickup in the groin the next morning, but she's soft enough to appreciate the talent and inner being of a schizophrenic paparazzo named Don who seems to have some sort of difficulty keeping track of his meds. (And good thing, too, since Tuesday's pilot included a kick-ass presentation of life seen through the eyes of a schizophrenic running on fumes.) She thinks nothing of giving the news a nudge over the cliff by encouraging her staff to set the sex-and-excess traps for celebrities to fall into, but she's principled enough to demand that everything that shows up in Dirt be true.

How this woman's head doesn't explode is beyond me.

The truth, she reminds us, is why Dirt is so popular. It's also the reason she hasn't turned up dead in some Dumpster yet. The sullied and the muddied all know what she prints is true, and in Hollywood, sordid truth isn't just part of the game - it's often what keeps you in the game. Unless, as we see in Tuesday's episode, you're some muy-macho family man Los Angeles basketball star getting served with paparazzi photos of you taking one for the team, so to speak, from a hooker with a strap-on. There, we learn, the truth can hurt in more ways than one, and when you're a self-proclaimed family man sports figure with a hot tub and a blonde who can suck the chrome off a trailer hitch, down is truly a long way to fall without a parachute.

Being the devil wouldn't be much fun if nobody wanted to play in your sandbox, and Dirt shows what even the Amish have known since, like, forever: Hollywood has no shortage of the heartless and the soulless perfectly willing to sell out their more-successful friends and loved ones for some cash or a puff piece to jump-start their own career going nowhere. That's because in Hollywood, if you can make the impression that someone thinks you're interesting, you are. Which, as even the Amish have known since, like, forever, is the only argument even God Himself could make for Paris Hilton.

It's said that God couldn't exist without the devil, so Dirt shows that consciences sucked dry by hack jobs, envy, and greed sometimes do win the wrestling match. It just comes too little too late to make a difference. In Tuesday's episode, it led the nowhere-career actor whose betrayal of a star's secret pregnancy (and her fatal overdose) to smash his car and his girlfriend into a cement barrier, and Schizo Don to blame the cancer death of his cat on bad tabloid karma.

In essence, Dirt asks us to ponder the question of whether celebrity (or lack of it) attracts bad people or just makes good people do bad things. Should we even try? Given what Hollywood and celebrity is, it's probably best to just let God have the task of sorting 'em all out when they're through.

Find more life lessons learned from television in the What I Watched Last Night files.



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Posted on January 3, 2007


MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Don't Let Your Pet OD.


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