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FX series revels in dishing the 'Dirt'

There is a moment in Tuesday's upcoming episode of "Dirt" (10 p.m., FX) that is worth Courtney Cox' entire series, thus far.

We have previously learned that Cox, playing our heroine the Tabloid Empress, prefers sexual appliances and thoughts of a young actor she's emotionally castrated to having a real-life devoted rock musician in her bed. As she gazes at the picture of the thoroughly traduced young star, she is able to find physical release at last.

That was last week.

This week, we discover that her favorite photographer, the functioning schizophrenic who looks a little like Matt Drudge (played by Ian Hart) is willing to do anything -- up to and including the sacrifice of minor body parts -- to "get the story."

There, at last on this show, is the deep, dark laugh that the series about tabloid journalism has been aiming at for two episodes now.

Heaven knows we expect raunch and edge from series on FX, the cable network that has given us edge and raunchfests "nip/tuck," "Rescue Me" and "The Shield." "Dirt" has all that covered nicely. It also has some high-level TV directors in its stable -- actor Adam Arkin, "NYPD Blue" directors Jesse Bochco and Paris Barclay, "L.A. Law's" Elodie Keene, and Buffalo's own Fred K. Keller, who, on occasion, was prevailed upon to write for this newspaper and who has always contended that TV these days is where the great new B movies are.

Barclay, for instance, is a man actually capable of turning an episode of "Cold Case" that was set backstage in a Philadelphia production of "Cabaret" into the closest thing to "Murder, She Wrote" you'll ever find in a Jerry Bruckheimer procedural.

The trouble is that in episodic TV, directors are talented hirelings. Direction comes from elsewhere. And that's where "Dirt" has been fascinating.

Here is a series that is as proud as can be of how well it knows its subject -- the symbiotic insect world of L.A. celebrity and the paparazzi and tabloids that feed there -- but has absolutely nothing to say about it.

Not a good thing, that. I confess I've found it fascinating to watch but also more than a little appalling.

When the great movies turned their attentions to the blackest hearts in all of journalism -- Billy Wilder, say, in "Ace in the Hole" or Fritz Lang in "While the City Sleeps" -- they had the good grace to be a little horrified, on behalf of decency everywhere.

But "Dirt" revels in it, admires it, splashes around in it. It heartily approves of its central witch as she zestily condemns all intelligence and occupational standards to the incinerator and aspires to the survival capacity of sharks.

She's a monstrosity. But, of course, she's played by the show's executive producer and driving force Courtney Cox, which does muddle things a bit.

But it also opens up vistas of understanding.

Take a look, for instance, at Josh Stewart playing young actor Holt McLaren. He looks a little like Cox' husband, co-producer David Arquette (now in his own Wednesday night ABC series "In Case of Emergency"). The character has a girlfriend who was on a sitcom and got his career going again by ratting out the ugliest secrets of his girlfriend's buddies to the magazine "Dirt."

Maybe it's a bit harsh. But it's hard not to wonder if the gleeful amorality of "Dirt" is the collaborator's-eye-view -- that of those eager to rat others out for advancement's sake.

In which case, it's a very, very dirty show indeed.

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com

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