September 30, 2007

TV: Dirty Sexy Money (ABC, Wednesday 10/9)

Now this is how you do filthy rich dysfunctional-family soap opera.

Nick George (Peter Krause) grew up around the Darling clan, one of New York's most influential families; his father was their family lawyer. That meant that Daddy wasn't home much, and Nick has vowed never to let his family feel as neglected as he felt when he was a child.

But when Daddy dies in a mysterious plane crash, and patriarch Tripp Darling (Donald Sutherland, at his malevolence-oozing best) offers Nick great big gobs of money to work for The Family -- you can hear the capital letters every time the words are uttered -- Nick can't bring himself to turn it down. "The money will be good for my wife and daughter," he tells himself; "I have to do this job on my terms," he tells Tripp, "and I won't lie for The Family." "We would never ask you to," says Tripp.

And what a messed-up batch the Darlings are. Letitia (Jill Clayburgh) drinks too much, and doesn't have the faintest idea what any of her kids are up to. Oldest son Patrick (William Baldwin) is the state Attorney General and wants to be Senator, but that's not likely to happen if the media finds about his transgendered mistress.

(Weirdly enough, this is two ABC pilots in one week that have transgendered mistress subplots; something in the water at the network cafeteria, maybe?)

Karen Darling (Natalie Zea), the closest of the Darling kids to Nick in age, has always had a thing for him, and now that he's an employee, she figures that this is her chance to finally land him; never mind that he's married, or that she's about to marry her fourth husband. Father Brian (Glenn Fitzgerald) is trying to get his illegitimate son into an exclusive private school. And the twins, Juliet and Jeremy (Samaire Armstrong and Seth Gabel) are party kids, drinking and drugging their way through life. Juliet, at least, has a bit of ambition and wants to be an actress; sadly, she doesn't have an ounce of talent.

Krause is the perfect voice of sanity, trying frantically to cope as the Darlings zip through life, oblivious to the drama they're creating for each other and for everyone around them. Sutherland plays WASP privilege as well as anyone these days, and it's great fun to see him given a chance to be funny again. The rest of the cast is well-chosen; I particularly enjoyed Fitzgerald, viciously funny and flamboyantly profane, and Armstrong, who is already bringing unexpected depth to her Paris Hilton-type character.

I could have done without the imposition of a mystery arc -- are the Darlings responsible for the plane crash that killed Daddy George? -- but with any luck, that will be wrapped up quickly, and we can get on with the day-to-day lives of the Darling family; there's more than enough entertainment there to keep this show around for a long time.

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