Attention, all you Friends fans out there. After three years away from the small screen, your lovable Monica is back. But other than the familiar dark eyes, high cheekbones, and strong chin, you may have a little trouble recognizing the former sitcom sweetie pie.
That's because in her dark new dramatic series, Dirt, actress Courteney Cox, who played Monica for 10 seasons, is portraying a character who is her polar opposite. She's Lucy Spiller, the ruthless and slightly unstable editor of a glossy celebrity tabloid called Drrt (yes, that's Drrt), which chronicles - and plays no small part in - the rise and fall of the glitzy stars, has-beens, and wannabes of Hollywood.
The one-hour series premieres at 10 p.m. Tuesday on FX.
Cox's role is quite a switch for her, and given the nature of the show - the first couple of episodes feature a good dose of steamy sex, a lot of it involving Lucy - it should forever erase her squeaky-clean image as the cute little neatnik of Friends.
As the hard-charging magazine editor, Lucy is obsessed with exposing the hidden truths behind celebrity lives. She fancies herself a journalist, but in her frantic attempts to dig up the "truth," she doesn't bother weighing the ethics or morals of her efforts. Her idea of a big scoop is to run a cover picture of a dead starlet laid out in her cremation box.
Lucy's right-hand man is Don Konkey, an ace photographer who can always be counted on to come up with the "money shot." But he has problems of his own. A functional schizophrenic, Konkey's idea of a good time is cuddling with his cat and swaying to Hawaiian music in his garbage-strewn apartment.
He also deals with a daily barrage of hallucinations, and admits to having
"a tenuous grasp on what's real." The creepy character is portrayed with shifty nervousness by Ian Hart, a veteran British actor best known for the role of Prof. Quirinus Quirrell in the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
Other series regulars include Josh Stewart (Third Watch) as a struggling actor who's stuck in the shadow of his A-list girlfriend (Laura Allen, The 4400); Alexandra Breckenridge as a young tabloid reporter; Jeffrey Nordling (Flight 93) as the magazine's unscrupulous publisher, and Timothy Bottoms as its owner.
The show's version of Hollywood is populated with loads of ambitious and insecure narcissists, most of the women pumped full of collagen and silicone, and the guys sporting that pseudo-cool, Ryan Seacrest-like, two-day stubble that must come standard issue with a SAG card.
All are desperate to become "hot," or to remain that way. One of the most cutting epithets that can be hurled at anyone is to call him or her an "indie art-house loser."
The series looks at the odd, co-dependent relationship between celebrities and tabloid publications in today's star-struck culture. On the one hand, celebs whine about their lack of privacy and being forever hounded by the paparazzi. But on the other, when their names and faces stop showing up in the supermarket rags, that's often not good news for their careers.
The 42-year-old Cox is not only the star of the series, but also an executive producer, along with her husband, David Arquette. When the show was in its early developmental stages, Cox had no intention of appearing in it.
That's because as originally conceived, the series was to focus not on the magazine's editor, but on the schizophrenic photographer. But the brass at FX stepped in to steer the concept in another direction, one in which the tough female editor would be the primary focus. That was enough to lure Cox back in front of the camera.
Thank goodness for that. Not that Cox is the world's best actress - she was, after all, the only member of the Friends ensemble who was never even nominated for an Emmy - but I can't imagine the show being built around the dreary Konkey. As it is, Dirt spends way too much time on the photographer and his hallucinations - though at one point he does play a pretty nice symphony with his pill bottles.
It's even harder to imagine this series lasting for more than a handful of episodes. FX seems to have higher standards than the broadcast networks, as evidenced by its edgy series such as nip/tuck, Rescue Me, The Shield, and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
The cable network will almost certainly be sweeping Dirt off its schedule long before the current season ends.