Sunday, November 04, 2007

“Nope – Tastes Better Naked”: Dirty Sexy Money, so far

(Please welcome our newest writer, Myles McNutt, who will be writing up Dirty Sexy Money for us from now on. -- ed.)

ABC’s Wednesday night lineup was a huge gamble heading into this season – it was an entirely new night of programming, something that most networks shy away from due to the highly unpredictable nature of such a thing. Two of the three shows have gained a lot of notoriety: Private Practice for its Grey’s Anatomy pedigree, and Pushing Daisies for being … well, for being pretty well just plain awesome.

However, ABC Wednesdays also have another member of the family, and I don’t think it’s fair to turn Dirty Sexy Money into the forgotten stepchild of the evening. I’ll admit to treating it poorly at first glance: Even with Peter Krause (Six Feet Under) and Donald Sutherland (most recently on television, Commander in Chief, but he doesn’t really need a credit here to prove his greatness), I wasn’t “excited” about the prospects of another “wacky rich family” drama, and I wasn’t even alive when the genre hit its peak with Dynasty and Dallas in the early 80s.

But the show has surprised me by not falling into its broad brushstrokes of dirtiness (adultery), sexiness (guest star Eddie Cibrian) and extravagance, and instead has painted a subtle portrayal of sympathetic characters in a show that was supposed to be about insufferable rich people. The comedy has remained sharp, the writers have learned how to use their actors to serve their story, and there is not a single character that I outright despise – these feats have proven its worth, at least in my eyes.

All of the things I could say about what has made the show great thus far can really be found within this last week’s episode. With a high stakes poker game pitting Tripp Darling (Sutherland) against Simon Elder at its centre, “The Game” brought to the table moral dilemmas for the elder Darling children while providing some strong forward momentum to the show’s occasionally trite murder plot. But, before we get to that, let’s take a look at what’s happened thus far.

And now, an introduction into the world of Dirty Sexy Money – there’s only been five episodes (six counting Wednesday’s), but they have been five fairly exposition-heavy outings and have resulted in some rather fundamental changes in certain characters.

Nick George – Lawyer, philanthropist, sell-out. After his father, Dutch, who served as the Darling’s attorney, died in a mysterious plane crash, he was offered millions for charity to take over his father’s job. The result is the usual story – he’s overworked and overextended, losing touch with his wife and daughter, not to mention his charity work. Add on the attempt to solve his father’s murder, which he feels might connect to the Darling family, and you have one messed up lawyer; luckily, Peter Krause remains grounded and realistic in what could be a messy role managing the Darling family craziness.

Tripp and Letitia Darling – I am glad this show exists just so I can see Donald Sutherland and Jill Clayburgh argue for 10 minutes a week. The family’s figureheads, these two have drama of their own – Tish had a 40-year affair with Nick’s father, and Tripp might have killed him because of it. Their tension has only increased since Tripp found out that one of his children (Or two, but I’ll get to the twins later) are Dutch’s. But, in the end, they are defined by some glorious acting of acerbic dialogue by two screen legends.

Patrick Darling – One of the qualities that made me fall for the show was that Patrick’s love affair with a transsexual was handled like an actual relationship: not some “It was dark, I didn’t know!” scenario, but a realistic emotional connection. The show hasn’t spent much time with Patrick outside of his race for Senate, but he’s having issues living up to his father’s expectations and his own hopes and dreams at the same time – typical eldest son stuff portrayed well by Billy “I Refuse to Call Him William” Baldwin.

Brian Darling – After the first episode, many were calling Glenn Fitzgerald’s foul-mouthed and hateful priest the show’s breakout character, but he became fairly mundane for a spell. Then, his illegitimate son (The adorable and awesome Brian Jr.) entered the picture, and his character gained a heart while maintaining its edge. Plus, seriously, the kid is awesome. Donald Sutherland tried talking to him in Swedish (long story – it involved live lions), and it was the greatest scene ever. And, most recently, Brian moved back home with Brian Jr. after his wife found out he had an illegitimate child, which promises some awkward (aka awesome) breakfast chatter.

Karen Darling – Oh, how I love thee Karen. She’s a hilarious drunk, she’s deliciously catty, and she has perhaps the best dialogue on the entire show – while everyone was saying Brian would be, I knew that Natalie Zea would be the show’s breakout star in this regard. Karen is still caught up on her high school love affair with Nick (Which is awkward enough now that she’s engaged for the 4th time, but imagine if she’s Nick’s half-sister too), and her falsified naivete has not yet missed the mark whether it was trying to hide a sex tape, blackmailing Patrick about his illicit activities, or hijacking Nick and his wife Lisa’s Italian getaway.

The Twins – Juliet and Jeremy Darling are in their mid-20s, have never held a job in their lives, and are supposed to be the Paris Hilton/David Foster’s Kids of this equation. However, they have revealed themselves to be much more than that: Samaire Armstrong and Seth Gabel have formed a strong sibling bond between their characters as they’ve been split apart. Both have shown considerable growth, especially in last week’s birthday episode in which they came to terms with Jeremy’s relationship (now over) with Juliet’s ex-BFF, and where Jeremy agreed to work for his father. These are the two shallowest characters on paper, but the writers have done a lot to make me care about them.

Simon Elder – Blair Underwood just recently joined the cast, but with him comes a new dynamic for the show’s murder mystery storyline (And not a second too soon). Nick’s father was working with him at the time of his death, and there is a lot of bad blood between Elder and the Darlings.

Elder adds a great dynamic to the murder mystery because he’s yet another morally questionable individual, but this episode might have taken him a bit far – rigging the game of poker places him blindly on the evil side, and the show insinuated he was responsible for the mechanic’s murder. When Patrick walked into his office to discuss his future, you felt like he was meeting the devil, and I think it’s a bit too early for that characterization.

Speaking of characterization, this week’s episode was chock full of it: Patrick coming to terms with his father’s control was perhaps the most shallow (Although featured yet more positive characterization of Carmela), but Karen and Brian came into their own. It was great to see Karen face off with her mother, and the parallel of the trifecta marriages was fitting: her character actually seemed to have a conscience about her own actions this week, which adds a solid layer of depth to her exterior. Sebastien (The aforementioned Cibrian, in a pure eye candy role) was a necessary step for her character, so it was more than worthwhile.

The same goes for Brian, who spent the episode seeming like a real human being: he showed concern for his son, chummed around with his brothers, and then realized he needed to spend more time with Brian Jr. (who remained adorable, even when becoming a spoiled rich kid).

And even Jeremy and Juliet got in on the action, as Jeremy came to terms with his new job parking cars (By crashing one and flirting with Sofia Vergara) and Juliet has a moment of maturity when she tells off Brian for not spending enough time with his son. It was also good to see Juliet in a smaller dose: she’s a bit unbearable in larger ones, but the character worked fine as Brian Jr.’s chaperone.

The most important plot development was that Nick and Tripp are now working together to solve Dutch’s murder, and it’s kind of left their relationship at a largely resolved point: Dutch is going to put Nick in charge of the company one day (Really?), and Nick appears to be serving more as Tripp’s spy than anything else. By putting Darling Plaza on the table, Tripp made a cold statement to his wife and allowed for a great deal of rather fantastic acting from Jill Clayburgh. Their act hurt a lot of people, so the stakes remain high for all parties involved – I still think all individuals are more ambiguous than their current position, so much intrigue can still follow.


Carrie said...

Welcome, Myles! Great review.

This show is so much more than I thought it would be at first glance, and I'm really enjoying how they are developing all of the characters. Although they are all stereotypes and caricatures to a certain point, the writers and actors have done a wonderful job of making them all seem three dimensional and human. Also, although none of these people look like they should be related it still feels like they are a family.

I think the reason this show ultimately works is because of Nick's character grounding the ridiculousness of the Darlings. Peter Krause is doing a great job putting nuance into a part that could feel really stale each week. I think it is interesting to watch his struggle each week to not become his father while still, at heart, truly sort of enjoying working for the Darlings. I hope they don't play out this "Karen is in love with Nick" thing forever, though. If Nick ever cheated on his wife with her it would completely feel false to me.

One other reason to like this show? They used a beautiful song by Dan Wilson this week. (Dan's the lead singer of Semisonic, a criminally underrated band.)

Myles said...

Thank you for the welcome Carrie, and for sending me on a frantic search to find out why, in the past year, I would have had reason to pause at the name Dan Wilson. The answer? He co-wrote The Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready to Make Nice" and was at the Grammys. And then my brother, being much more versed in mid-90s pop-rock and music in general, informed me of the connection. [My other fun connection: coincidentally, the show isn't airing this week thanks to the Country Music Awards. Freaky, eh?]

I would tend to agree in regards to the Karen and Nick situation...I think that they've got a serious conundrum in that Nick is the show's rock and yet it will become very boring if he lacks moral complexity. He's got to screw up a little, but I think anything in regards to adultery is pushing the limits, especially considering that Brian, Tish, Patrick and Karen are already partaking. Krause has nuance, but the character will have to make some movement.

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