Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
To the average television viewer, ABC's new soap opera/comedy Dirty Sexy Money must seem incredibly shallow and cliché, not to mention done to absolute death. There's the mild-mannered, do-right outsider, and of course there are the wealthy, corrupt bastards with deep dark secrets that the mild-mannered outsider gets stuck with. I've already heard it compared with Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty, and I must admit that I can see the comparison. As if that weren't bad enough, its lead in is the Grey's Anatomy spin-off Private Practice, about which the kindest thing I can say is that the reviews have been…less than stellar. So it looks as though Dirty Sexy Money has an awful lot against it…and yet there's something charming and hilarious about it that keeps me going back for more.
The voice of reason and hero of the show is lawyer Nick George (Peter Krause), a somewhat damaged man who was forced to share his father with New York’s wealthiest family, the Darlings. As the family's attorney, Nick’s father was made to cover up any indiscretion and make sure nothing ever came back to bite the Darlings in the ass. Sadly, while he did the job well, he did so at the cost of Nick’s mother. It also didn’t help that the young boy was made to wait around a lot by himself. When he grew up he made a vow “that [he] would never work for the Darlings.”
Years go by and Nick becomes a lawyer himself, though as a low-earning protector of the little guy, he is the polar opposite of his father. He has a wife and daughter (played by the younger Fanning child, Elle) and life is as sweet as it could be. That all changes (as you knew it would) when his father’s airplane crashes into the ocean. Cue…the Darlings. Through a series of events and the temptation of a lot of money,Nick decides to take on the job of caring for the Darlings, while simultaneously coming to the realization that maybe one of them killed his father.
Did you count the clichés in this series? An unsolved murder, opulent wealth, gratuitous sex, and yes there’s even drugs…all the makings of a show that airs on ABC. But, (and this is the important point), that shouldn’t stop you from tuning in. What makes a show like this compelling is the ensemble cast, and a great ensemble can more than make up for the holes in a plot. The Darling family is nothing short of hilarious. You have the family patriarch Tripp (Donald Sutherland) who always feels the need to come out and “put his nuts on the table” (believe me it’s even funnier when he says it), and the matriarch Leticia (Jill Clayburgh) who spends her days and nights drinking and mourning Nick’s father. There’s the aspiring Congressman Patrick (William Baldwin) who has to deal with his mistress, a transvestite hooker (not so cliché now, is it?) and the multiple divorcee Karen (Natalie Zea) who loves Nick to the point she calls her new fiancée by his name several times. Next is Brian, a man of the cloth who’s always hated Nick and his father but somehow can threaten a man and then “perform a baptism in an hour.” Last there are the twins Juliet (Samaire Armstrong) and Jeremy (Seth Gabel). One is an aspiring actress who can’t act, while the other does nothing but get in trouble and party with pseudo-celebrities like Ethan Hawke.
With a cast this large, and the various story arcs they all have going, it’s easy for a viewer to at least enjoy one character (my personal preference is Jeremy the twin, because who doesn’t love a guy who has to get home in time to go to space camp at age 23?) And they’re all lovable, at least in their own way. I really think that’s where ABC shines; amidst all the champagne and sex, there’s a real charm that emanates from all the characters. You want them all to succeed and do well, while at the same time you’re engaged in the main crux of the story, in this case the mystery of who killed Nick’s father.
I can’t praise the show enough. There’s just something – dare I say it? – magical and sweet there that you can’t find in something like Grey’s Anatomy. There is truly something for everyone here (even transvestite hookers!) and provided the stories stay fresh, this is fun escapism at its best. Can Ugly Betty say that?
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.