Dirt (Sunday, 9 p.m., FX) digs into the filth that covers us all. It's about our gossipy celebrity culture: the stars who misbehave, the press that glorifies and debases them, and the rest of us, who eat it all up. Lucy Spiller (Courteney Cox) is the hardball editor of Dirt Now, which gets its scoops by hook or by crook. She wears high-heel boots and a perpetual sneer, looking down her nose at the naughty celebrities who pay her bills.
Cox creates a brilliant character here. Lucy has been hardened by this sick little world of ours, and she enjoys her mastery over it. Every once in a while we see a glimpse of humanity behind her sarcastic shell - or do we? Lucy's next withering one-liner comes so quickly that it's hard to tell.
In this week's episode, the plot riffs on real-world sleaze. A TV star is videotaped eating drunkenly off the floor, à la David Hasselhoff. He also rails at his daughter in a leaked answering-machine message, à la Alec Baldwin. A Paris Hilton look-alike named Milan Carlton goes to jail for drunk driving and then finds God on the advice of her crisis-publicist. Lucy revels in portraying Milan as America's villain, but a co-worker points the finger at America instead.
"We're a nation of spoiled rich people. Milan's just so extreme that it makes us all feel better by comparison. Really, she's just the part of ourselves we loathe. That's why you need her, to make us feel better. That's her job."
Just when we're beginning to feel guilty, Lucy comes in with the withering one-liner: "You can't say the job doesn't pay well."
Here Come the Newlyweds
Sunday, 9 pm (ABC)
Seven recently married pairs compete in mental and physical challenges designed to test their affection for one another. The series claims to be about helping newlyweds "realize their dreams," but of course it's really trying to split them up, just as The Newlywed Game did in the 1960s and '70s.
The only difference is that nowadays the couples don't have to deal with TV-induced breakup on their own; they can simply air their grievances on Divorce Court. I imagine a future in which reality-show contestants will never have to leave the studio lot, from birth to marriage to death. Which network will be first out of the gate with Here Come the Corpses?
Monday, 7 pm (Fox)
Julianna Margulies was a memorable nurse in ER, and she makes a smooth transition to defense attorney in Canterbury's Law. You buy her as a tough, savvy strategist who's not afraid to bend the law for a good cause.
But the series is merely solid. Margulies' attorney is not as distinctive as Glenn Close's in Damages or James Woods' in Shark. She reminds you of a lot of other TV lawyers who conduct icily seductive cross-examinations leading to the inevitable gotcha moment.
I will admit that Margulies has nicer legs than they do. Fox is obviously proud of them, zooming in for one nylon-clad closeup after another. If the network thinks this is all it takes to bring a few of us male viewers back for a second episode, well...
...see you next Monday.
High School Reunion
Wednesday, 9 pm (TV Land)
Sixteen alumni of a Texas high school class of 1987 reunite to work through old and new dramas. All give themselves credit for having grown up. The Bully claims to be sensitive, the Pipsqueak claims to be a ladykiller, the Outsider claims to be gregarious, and the Jock claims to be humbled by tragedy. But they seem like overgrown teenagers to me. The women giggle over the guys, and the guys leer at the women. We might as well be in the school cafeteria.
One woman guffaws when she sees a high school picture of herself with dated '80s hair and clothes. She can't believe how silly she looked then, whereas now she sports a frosted rat's-nest hairdo, nose stud and blotchy sunburst tattoo.
In 20 years, you just know this woman will laugh at a picture of herself with the dated 2008 look. But we can get a head start by laughing at her now.
Wednesday, 9:30 pm (Starz)
With Entourage, Extras and Curb Your Enthusiasm, HBO has cornered the market on inside-showbiz satire. This is formidable competition, but Starz gives HBO a run for its money with the half-hour comedy Hollywood Residential. The series draws from HBO's playbook: no laugh track, dry humor, Hollywood cameos, merciless satire. The antihero, Tony King (Adam Paul), is a self-deluded showbiz wannabe, à la Entourage's Johnny Drama or Extras' Andy Millman. Round-bodied and stupid, Tony's a struggling actor who doesn't realize he's struggling for a reason. He stinks.
Tony is the (un)handyman/host of a crappy celebrity home-makeover show on cable TV. But he thinks he's meant for better things, setting himself up for one comic humiliation after another. It's the uncomfortable sort of comic humiliation, patterned after Curb Your Enthusiasm. Indeed, Curb's Cheryl Hines serves as executive producer.
Does TV really need more humiliation of this sort? I'd say yes, though as a TV critic I'm probably more comfortable with degradation than the average citizen.