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"Dirt" The Complete First Season DVD Review

Buy Dirt: The Complete First Season DVD from Amazon.com Dirt: Season One (2007)
Show & DVD Details

Creator: Matthew Carnahan / Repeat Writers: Matthew Carnahan, Joel Fields, Dave Flebotte

Repeat Directors: Chris Long, Matthew Carnahan, Paris Barclay

Cast: Courteney Cox (Lucy Spiller), Ian Hart (Don Konkey), Josh Stewart (Holt McLaren), Laura Allen (Julia Mallory), Jeffrey Nordling (Brent Barrow), Will McCormack (Leo Spiller)

Recurring Characters: Alexandra Breckenridge (Willa McPherson), Shannyn Sossamon (Kira Klay), Johann Urb (Johnny Gage), Rick Fox (Prince Tyreese), Carly Pope (Garbo), Ankur Bhatt (Kenny), Paul Reubens (Chuck Lafoon), Grant Show (Jack Dawson), Timothy Bottoms (Gibson Horne), Tara Summers (Abby), Owiso Odera (Gareth Dasilva), Stephanie Turner (Maddy Sweet), Julie Claire (Cheryl Steen), Mariette Hartley (Dorothy Spiller), Lukas Haas (Marqui Jackson), Channon Roe (Jeff Stagliano), Randy Oglesby (Reverend Thomas Sweet), Bret Roberts (Cal), Billy Brown (Tweety McDaniel), Shauna Stoddart (Terry), Glenn Badyna (Elliot), Kymberly S. Newberry (Tami G), Mia Cottet (Tammy), Stormy Daniels (Stormy)

Noteworthy Guest Stars: David Fincher (Himself), Mark Harelik (Quinn), Romy Rosemont (Rema Saunders), Richard Portnow (Teddy Jick), Marc Vann (Dr. Kozar), Wayne Brady (Anthony), Adrianne Curry (Herself), Christopher Knight (Himself), Scott Klace (D.A. Alan Joss), Richard T. Jones (Bulldog), Kristin Minter (Dana Pritchard), Randall Batinkoff (Jimmy Rembar), Robert Costanzo (Tony), Vincent Gallo (Sammy Winter), Ivonne Coll (Maria), Mini Anden (Holt's Co-Star), David Newsom (Jimmy Ray Banhheart), Olivia Hardt (Dawni Banheart), Maeve Quinlan (Kitty Ryder), Rolando Molina (Ozzy Romero), Perez Hilton (Himself), Jennifer Aniston (Tina Harrod), Rachael L. Hollingsworth (Kyla)

Running Time: 607 Minutes (13 episodes) / Rating: TV-MA
1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
DVD Release Date: December 11, 2007; Season 1 Airdates: January 2 - March 27, 2007
Suggested Retail Price: $59.99; Four single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9)
Six-sided fold-out Digipak with cardboard slipcover

Buy from Amazon.com Buy Season 2

For every actor who's gotten their start on television and transitioned to movie stardom in just a few years (like Robin Williams, Bruce Willis, Tom Hanks and Shia LaBeouf, to name a few), there are about five who were a part of a huge hit TV show that never went onto anything bigger. Look at the casts of the landmark "Cheers" and "Seinfeld" and consider how few of them we see on the big screen with regularity or in a leading role. A more recent example is the long-running "Friends"; of the ensemble sitcom's six stars, only one -- Jennifer Aniston -- has continued to remain of high interest to the general public and that's been due as much to her celebrity marriage and divorce as her roles in film.

Aniston's fellow Friends continue, however, to get work. Courteney Cox recently followed Lisa Kudrow and Matthew Perry back to television with her hour-long FX drama "Dirt". Unlike "The Comeback" and "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip", "Dirt" was renewed for a second season.
Like those programs and the majority of contemporary TV, "Dirt" now heads to DVD. The Walt Disney Company, whose Touchstone Television arm co-produces the series with FX, releases The Complete First Season this week in a 4-disc set.

"Dirt" adds to a minor trend of Hollywood serving an inside look at its unique, alluring world. On TV, HBO's "Entourage" appears to be its closest kin, but the abundance of making-of featurettes and audio commentaries on many of the DVDs you own confirm that the phenomenon isn't limited to semi-fictional cable series. The angle that distinguishes "Dirt" has relevance to the media at large; it focuses on the market of celebrity gossip that is currently distributed at an all-time high. Trashy tabloids, starstruck respectable magazines, their TV and Internet counterparts, and everything in between all add up to a culture that supposedly can't get enough of celebrities aged 17-40 (primarily, 20-30) and the various parties, romances, personal dramas, and tragedies that concern them.

In the FX drama "Dirt", Courteney Cox plays Lucy Spiller, the hard-edged chief editor of the merged celebrity magazine (Get Your) DirtNow (Weekly). Paparazzo Don Konkey (Ian Hart) perches high in a tree to score an exclusive, revealing photograph for Drrt magazine.

Cox's lead character Lucy Spiller lives off of celebrity gossip. As editor-in-chief of two different entertainment publications that are merged early on, her journalism consists of ruthless paparazzi, top-secret sources, blackmail, valuable silences, and all sorts of Hollywood scandal.

If you look down upon rags like US Weekly but think somehow an interesting drama could be made about the people who make it, you're wrong. If you flip through the pages of such publications, most likely acknowledging the guilty pleasure of photos and fluff stories of famous young actors and musicians, you might have higher hopes for a show like "Dirt", but you too are likely to be disappointed.

"Dirt" is frankly a very unsavory show, which doesn't render the field of celebrity worship any less shallow while approaching it from the angles of cutthroat journalists and the newsmaking personalities. Part of the problem is that the depiction of Hollywood is utterly bleak. Starlets and young actors are all riddled with drug dependencies, infidelities, secret alternative lifestyles. "Who's in rehab this week?" has become a staple question of celebrity news this year, but the fictitious train wrecks here are more graphic and depressing than amusing in passing or apt for a late-night joke.

Meet hot celebrity couple Julia Mallory and Holt McLaren. She (Laura Allen) plays video games, he (Josh Stewart) always looks tired, and both do drugs and sleep around. Awesome! In a far cry from Pee-wee Herman, Paul Reubens plays a jaded former alcoholic reporter who advises the ambitious Willa (Alexandra Breckinridge) on a small-town murder mystery.

Another drawback is the very nature of the series -- it is fictional. For many people, it's a chore enough to care about what Britney, Paris, Lindsay, and Jessica are up to now. Investing in the dramas of pretend celebrities is quite a challenge; either a character emerges suddenly and we're left to ponder which real famous performers they're composited from, or they linger and we see shades of real life celebrities lose meaning in the move to "inspired by." I'm not sure if this dilemma is one that could be overcome; real celebrity news is hot for a moment then forgotten.
Wading into genuine gossip on a weekly series with high production values sounds like a logistical and legal nightmare. So, we're forced to settle for the occasional real life name drop and typically decipherable stand-ins for real celebrities. For instance, the unfaithful Los Angeles professional basketball player (portrayed by former Lakers forward Rick Fox) must be Kobe Bryant. An affair-having panelist on "American Dream" is obviously Paula Abdul. Other recurring characters are more open to interpretation.

The area that should stifle the rising question of "Who cares?" is the series' leads, but Cox's icy, desensitized, depraved, workaholic protagonist doesn't seem to deserve any of our sympathy. In the role of second fiddle, Ian Hart gets to show off his acting chops as functional schizophrenic photographer Don Konkey, but while weird neuroses and visual trickery might make for an imaginative filmmaking experience, they do not endear us to this conflicted paparazzo, who for the stretch of a few episodes is "living with" a pregnant starlet who has recently committed suicide (Shannyn Sossamon).

Given less time, supporting characters are even less compelling. The most focal celebrities are a self-indulged, screwed up young couple of actors who have Nick/Jessica overtones. The heavy-lidded Holt McLaren (Josh Stewart) sells his soul for a movie deal and in the process, helps send his video game-loving wife Julia Mallory (Laura Allen) into drugs, bisexual affairs, and rehab. At central workplace DirtNow, we also occasionally see confrontational pencil-sideburned publisher Brent Barrow (Jeffrey Nordling) and hard-working young reporter Willa McPherson (Alexandra Breckenridge, curiously deprived a core cast credit). They're generally called upon to serve a function and usually one that's either obvious or tangential.

As if to make up for all its design and execution shortcomings, "Dirt" pushes basic cable standards with profanity and sexuality that, like a few other FX original series, are more graphic than anything south of subscription channels like HBO and Showtime. The content seems shocking for cable channel-surfing, but it's also plainly indulgent as if throwing in variations of the s word and moments of partial rear nudity will cause us to overlook the many flaws. It doesn't, and in the world of uncensored DVDs, the series looks all the lamer for trying to disarm in this manner of restrained titillation.

Arriving two weeks before Christmas and three before the Season 2 premiere on FX, the timing just makes sense for this Complete First Season DVD. Spoiler-free synopses of the thirteen featured episodes follow.

Reality is played with when Don Konkey is on screen. En route to his meds in the pilot, a pharmacy's hair dye box models reach out and talk to him. It may look like a drug deal, but struggling actor Holt McLaren is really just becoming a source for a tabloid magazine.

Disc 1

1. Pilot (54:50) (Originally aired January 2, 2007)
A lull in a young actor's career drives him to establish a relationship with Drrt and Now magazines' joint editor Lucy Spiller. It has widespread effects on him, his wife, and her troubled best friend.

2. Blogan (47:38) (Originally aired January 9, 2007)
Faced with a need to make budget cuts, Lucy comes up with the idea to merge Drrt and Now into a single magazine. Before that, though, she gets a big scoop on the baby of celebrity couple "Blogan" (Blair and Logan) and exclusive photos of an overdosed starlet.

3. Ovophagy (48:02) (Originally aired January 16, 2007)
Lucy struggles to deliver a captivating debut issue of the newly-merged DirtNow, considering risky cover stories while Don goes to great lengths to get inside the hospital where a young Christian singer is being treated in extreme secrecy.

Jack Dawson (Grant Show) is an international movie star and a family man who doesn't want his little gay secret out in "You Don't Know Jack." Willa bonds with a teenaged source in "The Secret Lives of Altar Girls."

Disc 2

4. What to Expect When You're Expecting (44:04) (Originally aired January 23, 2007)
Family relationships concern Lucy as her mother plans to remarry on the anniversary of her first husband's suicide and Don uncovers Lucy's brother Leo's romance with a married action movie star.

5. You Don't Know Jack (47:27) (Originally aired January 30, 2007)
After catching Jack Dawson (Grant Show) with another man, Leo works with Don to reveal this family man's gay secret. Meanwhile, there are repercussions to the Aundre G head shots that lead the associates (including guest Wayne Brady) of hip hop impresario Tweety McDaniel after Brent and the scoop's source.

6. The Secret Lives of Altar Girls (44:30) (Originally aired February 6, 2007)
The murder of a small-town teenaged cheerleader is assigned to Willa and jaded veteran reporter Chuck Lafoon (Paul Reubens). Their work uncovers sordid answers to the mystery. Meanwhile, Lucy and Holt fool around.

7. Come Together (45:25) (Originally aired February 13, 2007)
The cheerleader murder story continues to develop, with Willa now reporting on her own. A real girlfriend (Tara Summers) not only keeps Don from covering Julia Mallory's drug-fueled descent but also questions his work and allegiance to Lucy. It's one of three blossoming relationships featured here, along with efforts by representatives of Jack Dawson to sue DirtNow.

Vincent Gallo takes a break from his indie films and their non-simulated sex acts to play disturbed former child star Sammy Winter who takes DirtNow employees hostage in one of the season's better episodes. Against the backdrop of the fabled wall, DirtNow publisher Brent Barrow (Jeffrey Nordling) collaborates with the two female co-workers he's closest to, Lucy and Willa.

Disc 3

8. The Thing Under the Bed (45:30) (Originally aired February 20, 2007)
Lucy is haunted by her past, in particular a childhood photograph from it. Willa negotiates for exclusive rights to cover a has-been actress' secretive wedding.

9. This is Not Your Father's Hostage Situation (45:35) (Originally aired February 27, 2007)
Things come to a standstill when former TV child star Sammy Winter (Vincent Gallo) holds the employees of DirtNow hostage with a handgun, explosives, and a rabid hunger for a cover story.

10. The Sexxx Issue (46:29) (Originally aired March 6, 2007)
The father of a wannabe pop star cries "statutory rape" after his daughter is "seduced" into a threesome with Brent and Willa, but he's willing not to file charges in exchange for covers. DirtNow magazine plans a sex issue which catches up with a missing porn star. Don and Abby's relationship gets more intimate, while Holt and Julia continue to flip-flop.

Misery loves company: Don is joined by fan and aspiring paparazzo Marqui Jackson (Lukas Haas) while waiting for the perfect photo op of an assigned subject. Julia appears on Tami G, a talk show that's part Tyra and part Oprah, to clear the air in the wake of her sex tape's leaking.

11. Pap Smeared (46:29) (Originally aired March 13, 2007)
Don allies with a young photographer (Lukas Haas) who admires his work and the two of them rub into trouble with a gang claiming ownership to a story. Lucy continues to be stalked (and troubled by it), while Julia, grown more frustrated by a lack of job offers, fires her agent.

Disc 4

12. Caught on Tape (44:04) (Originally aired March 20, 2007)
Lucy is in the middle of a scandal when Julia's sex tape with Johnny Gage is leaked. The actress claims it depicts a drugged rape,
while Willa works to uncover the source of the leak and Don, haunted by his comatose pal, tries to get the story's perfect photo.

13. Ita Missa Est (46:37) (Originally aired March 27, 2007)
Urged to kill by multiple illusions, Don is in a bad state. Lucy fears for her job when a rival editor (Jennifer Aniston) is called in. Finally, Lucy's stalker is revealed and the finale ends on a bloody scene which provides closure to some of the season's arcs.

VIDEO and AUDIO

At first look, "Dirt" could easily be mistaken for a major feature film based on its stunning picture and engulfing sound mix, both of which reflect considerable production values. As far as I can see, the cinematic presentation -- 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen video and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio -- is flawless. There's plenty of grain, but it seems to be a deliberate stylistic choice. English subtitles are provided for episodes and extras alike.

Executive producer and star's husband David Arquette looks like Don Konkey in his goateed, hat-wearing featurette appearances. Ankur Bhatt (Kenny) and Courteney Cox share a laugh in the very short gag reel. Courteney Cox acts against what appears to be a lavender blue screen in this unfinished deleted dream sequence.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, DESIGN and PACKAGING

With the exception of the promo for current Disney/ABC TV shows on DVD that launches Disc 1, all of the bonus features are found on Disc 4. They begin with three short featurettes. "Celebrity Couple Gets Dirty" (5:12) covers the origins and development of "Dirt" with brief interview sound bites from a wide variety of involved parties and episode clips. "Through a Lens, Darkly" (6:35) examines the character of Don Konkey, with high praise and analysis from many, but only a little insight from English portrayer Ian Hart.
"Tabloid Wars" (6:35) focuses on the celebrity gossip industry today, with real veterans of the business (including blogger/guest star Perez Hilton) sounding off and "Dirt" people discussing their inspirations and feelings on the subject.

A gag reel proves to be mildly diverting with its supply of botched lines, errant throws, funny faces, and laughter, although at 92 seconds, it runs surprisingly short for a 10-hour season.

Next come eleven deleted scenes collectively and individually introduced by creator/producer Matthew Carnahan and running about 19 minutes altogether. It's not always clear which episode or part the scenes themselves would fit in. They tend to be quick and unremarkable. A few things worth mentioning: a scene that was axed for Brent's "shiny shirt", a "sad cat man" who twice appears to Don, an unfinished blue screen dream sequence of Lucy, and an additional exchange with Leo's silent girlfriend.

"Dirt" creator/producer Matthew Carnahan provides only words, no scenes in his Season 2 Preview. Disc 4's main menu is a lot like the other three, only it has two more listings. The Episode Selection menus do convey a theme of sensitive celebrity journalism.

Finally, "Season 2 Preview" (1:20) merely finds Carnahan talking in vague terms about how the series' imminent sophomore year will differ from the featured season.

Disc 4's Sneak Peeks menu offers previews for a trio of Miramax Films DVDs coming winter 2007: Becoming Jane, Golden Door, and Eagle vs. Shark.

The thematically appropriate 16x9-enhanced menus are all accompanied by loud, looped instrumental music. The only animation comes in a brief intro to the main menu. Though the episodes are each divided into seven chapter stops, as is often the case for TV series, there are no scene access menus.

The Complete First Season of "Dirt" comes packaged, like most Buena Vista series, in a glossy fold-out Digipak that is housed in a cardboard slipcover. There's a pocket for inserts, but the only one provided is an ad for the soon-to-air Season 2 on FX.

Longtime colleagues and best friends, Don and Lucy provide the series with a very weak emotional core. Behold the icy stare of lonely, heartless Lucy Spiller.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

"Dirt" lives up to its name by being one of the lowest and trashiest TV series I've encountered in a long time. It's practically dead on arrival, with its insider and tabloid staff looks at the entertainment industry registering as morose, phony, and highly unappealing. Shallow characters, an irritating tone, hokey ideas, and a tremendous paucity of values all ensure that this hour-long drama isn't any better in execution than it is in theory.
I suppose FX has carved its own little niche with cable television that's nearly as edgy as HBO fare. The practice has earned devoted fan bases and critical acclaim, but if "Dirt" is representative of the programs' general quality, then I don't feel I'm missing out on shows like "Nip/Tuck" and "Rescue Me" and neither should you.

Buena Vista's DVD doesn't merit complaint in terms of presentation, with picture and sound being solid at least per the deliberate style. While far from overwhelming in quality, the featurettes and deleted scenes cover a satisfactory amount of ground in the obligatory supplements department, likely only disappointing those wanting audio commentaries. With only 13 episodes, there's not enough content to justify the set being given the same $59.99 list price as the twice as voluminous sets given to Disney's (much better) network shows like "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy." Then again, the tag isn't far off those of other FX dramas and it won't set you back nearly as much as the HBO shows being emulated. Still, even if you were able to snag this DVD for absolutely nothing, you'd still be at a loss for having acquired "Dirt."

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy Season 2

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Reviewed December 10, 2007.