Courteney Cox's first TV role after "Friends" doesn't value friendship at all. Her character in another enjoyably, stylish, down-and-dirty FX drama, "Dirt" (10 p.m. today, FX), is about as far from family-minded Monica Geller-Bing as possible.
Since Cox and her husband, David Arquette, are executive producers, you know the actress wanted it that way.
Lucy Spiller (Cox) is a tough, no-nonsense tabloid editor in Los Angeles who doesn't have any friends, save for a functioning schizophrenic photographer.
The coldhearted Lucy even would use her brother to get a good story and eats her young magazine reporters alive as they try to uncover celebrity misdeeds in Hollywood -- sex, drugs, hypocrisy -- by any means necessary to sell a sleazy tabloid, "Dirt."
She's a control freak, who doesn't like interference from her publisher, Brent Barrow (Jeffrey Nordling), and thinks she knows how to handle the owner, Gibson Horne (Timothy Bottoms) of "Dirt" and "Now," a softer celebrity-oriented magazine she also runs.
Cox must love Lucy, a character so devilish that the actress can't be accused of copying herself. And she looks terrific, especially early in a red dress.
The sex-crazed terrain of the series is made for FX, a cable channel that seems determined to offend (and "Dirt" surely will offend some viewers) and lower community standards. And also remind us that what some people may view as strange behavior might not be as uncommon as other people think.
The first three episodes introduce the usual Hollywood suspects -- the moody actor who can't find a good role, the pretty young blond with drug problems that threaten her career, the action hero who is hiding a secret, the pro basketball star and Christian singer who are guilty of hypocrisy.
There's also plenty of name-dropping -- Britney, Mary Kate, Clooney, "Dancing With the Stars" -- are all mentioned. It is pretty standard stuff for anyone who has ever read a supermarket rag, and it is hard to find anyone to root for in this cesspool. But Cox is so mesmerizing that she compensates for the show's flaws.
Her character is never at a loss for cynical words. "I love press releases," notes Lucy. "They are so much fun to translate." And then there's this classic Lucy magazine sales pitch: "Nothing sells better than death."
She isn't the only cynic in Hollywood with a dark sense of humor. When the moody actor is doing something inappropriate in public with his more cautious girlfriend, he calms her fears of being caught by saying: "Do you really think that anyone (in Hollywood) sees anyone but themselves."
The series also has some educational value -- enabling viewers to see some of the ways that celebrities are caught on film, on tape and on drugs. The show's mousy-looking, functioning schizophrenic photographer, Don Konkey (Ian Hart), is usually behind the traps set for celebs, even after they've died.
Konkey is a rich character who wears a goofy hat and attitude. He met Lucy in college and will do practically anything for her to get the big celebrity shot, including maim himself.
Nordling and Bottoms don't have much to do in the first three episodes, which focus on Lucy's political moves and the relationship between a moody actor, Holt McLaren (Josh Stewart) and his girlfriend-actress, Julia Mallory (Laura Allen).
Stewart defines moodiness and is even allowed to do something on TV that is more unusual than seeing nudity -- smoke cigarettes. The attractive cast also includes Grant Show as an aging action hero, Carly Pope as a celebrity drug dealer, ex Los Angeles Laker Rick Fox as a NBA star, Will McCormack as Lucy's brother, Alexandra Breckenridge as an ambitious young reporter and Shannyn Sossamon as a young superstar who is Julia's best friend.
FX has had pilots that were stronger than "Dirt" -- "Rescue Me" for example -- but the combination of a celebrity at the center, Cox, Hollywood satire and the salacious subject matter may help it hit paydirt in the ratings.
Review: Three stars (out of four)
10 p.m. today, FX