Here’s a newsflash. Not much seemed dirty or sexy in ABC’s new nighttime soap, Dirty Sexy Money. Worse, it wasn’t for lack of trying.
At the outset, Dirty Sexy Money seemed to be second-guessing itself, unable to commit to the camp it so clearly means to be. A tongue-in-cheek introduction sequence set to Led Zepplin showed Upper East Side socialites trickling from limos in slow motion, on their way to a funeral. We learned the train wreck of a family are named the Darlings, and that they will be judged by the ho-hum moral compass, Nick George (Peter Krause). A montage of voiced-over flashbacks was capped off with a shot of his father winking at young Nick, as his mother left them both for good, suggesting that his own framework is slightly dinged. so far, so serious.
As Nick briefly recounted his youth, his grown-up self stared out the Hudson River, his face full of consternation: he was watching his father’s mangled plane was pulled out. Because his father served as the Darlings’ family attorney, Nick knows something about their greed and gluttony. And so, Nick said, “I promised myself I would never become part of their world.” But everyone knows that promises made in the first 30 seconds of a series premiere are made to be broken.
The premiere episode made sure we understood just why Nick wants no part of this crowd. “Their world” comprises every cliché that comes with wealth and power on TV and in the tabloids. The Darlings are glamorous, yes, and gorgeous, of course. But evidently, each can only inhabit one stereotype at a time. Perhaps this is why there are so many of them.
As if to fend off our confusion, when the Darlings get together, they lay around drinking single malt scotch and spout expository dialogue at one another. Just five minutes into last week’s premiere episode, we knew everyone’s name and identifying trait. White-haired patriarch Tripp (Donald Sutherland) and alcoholic mother Letitia (Jill Clayburgh) oversee a brood that includes spoiled party boy Jeremy (Seth Gabel) and his twin, a suicidal starlet named Juliet (Samaire Armstrong). Their brother Brian (Glenn Fitzgerald) is a priest with an illegitimate son and a potty mouth to boot, And oh yes, Karen (Natalie Zea) is a seductress and Patrick (William Baldwin) a married senator-to-be, who arranges trysts with his transsexual lover (played by real-life transsexual Candis Cayne) in five star hotel rooms. Clearly, with all this going on, the family needs a lawyer.
Lucky for them, Nick went into law, just like Daddy, only he chose the do-gooder side. This doesn’t pay as well as his father’s practice, though it does afford his family a fairly swank New York apartment. Nick’s interactions with his wife Lisa (Zoe McLellan) — however brief in this episode — showed that they too inhabit a sort of stereotypical world. He complained about work, she straightened his tie and reminded him that he was really a good guy. We took note, because it might be hard to keep track of “good” and “bad” here.
Even though Nick seemed tethered to his charitable ethics and solid family “values” — he even reminded his assistant to remind him to pick up his daughter (Chloe Moretz) from school — all it took was Tripp’s promise of 10 million bucks and Nick agreed to take a giant step into the Darlings’ world. And, after Nick spends a busy day putting out his new employers’ many fires, thank goodness Lisa actually did remember to pick up their daughter from school. Whew.
Granted, a nighttime soap, especially one called Dirty Sexy Money, is supposed to provide just such an onslaught of class-based clichés and trumped up crises. And we can appreciate the cleverness of small flourishes, like the fact that each of the Darlings’ selected ring tones, identifying them when they call Nick’s Blackberry, stand in for character development. This even though Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl” doesn’t exactly elucidate what we already know of the Darlings so far. But the first episode of Dirty Sexy Money was never racy enough to titillate or facetious enough to be called satire. It looked instead like too many other shows about rich families — predictable, reproving, and self-serious. At least we can rely on that, honey.