Embarrassment of Riches

Photo: Courtesy of the CW [Gossip Girl] and ABC [Dirty Sexy Money]

His third time out as a lead in a prime-time TV series, Peter Krause has not been as lucky as he was in Sports Night and Six Feet Under. Dirty Sexy Money so far lacks either Aaron Sorkin’s Gatling-gun wit or Alan Ball’s mordant mortuary humor. Sometimes Krause, playing the part of a conscience-stricken lawyer and reluctant Mr. Fix-It for the spectacularly dysfunctional Darling family, seems to be waiting speechless for a better script. His Nick George is supposed to embody the instincts and agenda of a do-gooder, taking so many millions and so much crap from the Darlings only to fund charity projects for orphans and the like, while simultaneously seething with fantasies of revenge. Someone in this family murdered the previous consigliere, who happens to have been Nick’s father. Hamlet comes to mind, although one wishes he wouldn’t.

That’s the bad news. The good news about Dirty Sexy Money is that we sorely require a show of its sort. We used to be able to count on television for class hate in a gaudy box with a bloody ribbon, from Rod Serling’s Patterns to such mini-series as Irwin Shaw’s Rich Man, Poor Man, Taylor Caldwell’s Captains and the Kings, Arthur Hailey’s Wheels, and Norman Bogner’s Seventh Avenue; such soapies as Dallas, Dynasty, The Colbys, and Falcon Crest; such too-clever-for-their-own-good send-ups as Empire and Profit; and such classics of the vulture-capitalist genre as Barbarians at the Gate (“They make money the old-fashioned way—they steal it!”). We needed to believe that the family values of dynastic plutocrats, like those of the House of Atreus and the brothers Karamazov, came with a family curse. We needed to look at beautiful people in designer clothes, on horseback and in whirlybirds, having bad sex. Otherwise, we’d smash the smoky windows and slash the radial tires of every stretch limo we saw on the street.

Recently, however, television has been too kind to the Resting Classes, as if Burbank felt that trashing the rich might give aid and comfort to Al Qaeda, as if American culture from the beginning hasn’t been biased in favor of deer slayers, river pirates, Calamity Jane, and the Lone Ranger against J.P. Morgan, Citizen Kane, the severed ear of a Getty, and the overexposure of a Donald. Now to the rescue come Dirty Sexy Money and the Darlings (referencing Peter Pan!), with Donald Sutherland and Jill Clayburgh as pater- and materfamilias; William Baldwin, Natalie Zea, Glenn Fitzgerald, Samaire Armstrong, and Seth Gabel as their adult children; a full complement of wine cellars, Ming vases, long-haired dogs, limos, yachts, horses, helicopters, and hysterias; and enough adulteries, dipsomanias, coke addictions, suicide attempts, Episcopal priests, bastard children, tennis bums, and tranny hookers to subsidize a Murdoch tabloid. If only they knew what to do with this wealth of sordid secrets, personal privilege, excess, and contempt.

Gossip Girl may derive from a series of young-adult novels by Cecily von Ziegesar, but the Upper East Side preppies who plug each other in like Tinkertoys and then blog about it or text-message from the steps of the Met could very well be the teenage children oddly omitted from Dirty Sexy Money. They have doormen, kneesocks, predators, and trust funds. That I don’t care whether Serena (Blake Lively) and Blair (Leighton Meester) can ever be best friends again after what happened with Blair’s boyfriend before Serena ran off to boarding school is not just because I’m an old fart. As I once explained in the New York Times, my wife for years taught internal contradictions to the daughters of the ruling class at one of these private schools. The kids she taught I liked a lot. Unlike Gossip Girl, they were not trivial or insipid. Gossip Girl smells so much like teen spirit, it’s no wonder Kurt Cobain checked out.

Dirty Sexy Money
ABC. Wednesdays at 10 p.m.

Gossip Girl
The CW. Wednesdays at 9 p.m.

Embarrassment of Riches