Who Needs Enemies?
Courteney Cox was always my favorite friend on Friends. Aside from her performances in the multiple Scream films and the very short-lived reality series she produced with her husband, David Arquette, I was eager to see a bump in her career, post-Friends. But Dirt, the new series she stars in on FX, isn't what I would have imagined.
Ambitious, cynical, and entirely humorless, Dirt looks at the cutthroat world of entertainment journalism and its symbiotic relationship with the industry it covers. In a recent New York Times article, executive director and creator Matthew Carnahan explained his attraction to the subject. "As viewers we've been beaten to death with the legal, medical and cop franchises," he said. "This world offers a new narrative menu."
While Carnahan's remark seems patently true, the narrative smorgasbord one might expect is no more satisfying than a meal-replacement drink. However, what remains isn't entirely void of value either. This is a series that may improve with time.
Cox plays Lucy Spiller, the driven editor of sister entertainment magazines one a respectable glossy, the other a shameless gossip rag that enable her to alternate between self-proclaimed respectable journalist and dedicated showman who will stop at nothing to satiate the public's desire to know every embarrassing moment in celebrities' lives. Later in the season, the two magazines merge, which seems an afterthought and a shame. Watching Spiller juggle the opposing sides of her character was part of what made her interesting; that, and her siblinglike relationship with go-to photographer Don (Ian Hart). But it's a disturbing relationship based as much on loyalty as it is on need. As a functioning schizophrenic, Don lives on the verge of his next breakdown. Well aware of this, Lucy overlooks it, pressuring him to do whatever he needs to do to get the money shot. If she thought about what Don had to do to serve her, she might be concerned. The easy explanation is that Lucy is a coldhearted woman with no sense of decency. But, as in the world Dirt is trying to critique, that's not where the explanation should end; it's where it should begin: a launching point toward a larger theme about how the entertainment industry plays with perceptions by invention and re-invention, denial and collusion, and what makes people enter into the maelstrom thinking they will remain unscathed.
As Spiller, Cox has moved a long, long way from the fastidious Monica Geller on Friends. While Cox makes the leap effortlessly, it's too bad the vehicle isn't stronger. It airs Tuesdays at 10pm on FX.
Speaking of shows I couldn't have imagined, IFC brings an engrossing, if troubling, animé series to its lineup: Gunslinger Girl. The premise sounds preposterous outside of its comic-book origins: young girls orphaned by some horrific accident, world event, or suffering from a terminal illness are "adopted" by a vaguely described Italian social welfare agency that turns them into cybernetic assassins. Each is paired with a handler (or "fratello"; sibling in Italian) who manages their missions, which usually means gunning down a nondescript bad guy. The girls are ideal assassins because, as "just little girls," they're nothing more than wallpaper to their victims. They can attack in plain sight.
As slaves to the agency and to their still nascent personalities, the girls' situation is as disturbing as it is poignant. While their fratello handlers (all adult men) are protective of their charges, one can't help but wonder when, or if, the girls will realize that the power they are endowed with can be used toward their emancipation. That underlying question is only one enormous attraction to this breathtakingly stylish animé. With spare dialogue and evocative music, the series strikes deeper notions of faith, loyalty, abandonment, innocence, and beauty at a precognitive level. Feminists will have a field day deconstructing Gunslinger Girl, but you can't help but be awed by how emotionally haunting this world is.
Gunslinger Girl, dubbed in English from its original Japanese, airs Fridays at 10pm on IFC.
Sunday: King of the Hill returns for its 11th and possibly final season on Fox. Battlestar Galactica returns on Sci Fi. Monday: Prison Break returns from its midseason hiatus on Fox, as does Heroes on NBC. Wednesday: The George Lopez Show returns to ABC. Notable premieres (not reviewed at press time): The Dresden Files premieres on Sci Fi Sunday. Paul Blackthorne stars as a private eye who solves supernatural crimes. Documentarian Alexandra Pelosi's Friends of God: A Road Trip With Alexandra Pelosi in which the Journeys With George director takes her curiosity and camera to American evangelicals premieres Thursday on HBO.