Credit “Dirty Sexy Money” with the best title of any new series this year — a “Desperate Housewives”-like, everything-you-need-to-know enticement, hinting at all manner of tawdry thrills. Yet despite an unusually high-octane (and yes, reasonably sexy) cast ably led by “Six Feet Under’s” Peter Krause, the pilot doesn’t quite gel — feeling too determined to be quirky and provocative, and baited with a mystery that lacks the allure of the suicide that set “Housewives” in motion. Nevertheless, given the show’s asset, it would be premature to write “Money” off as a loss just yet.
Nick (Krause) is a principled attorney whose father has spent most of his life looking after the Darlings, a family whose wealth is matched only by its eccentricities, with each member seemingly weirder than the next. (Given their Peter Pan-like existence, the family’s surname hardly seems an accident.)
After Nick’s dad dies in a private plane crash, Darling patriarch Tripp (Donald Sutherland) recruits Nick to fill his old man’s shoes. “You know us, Nicky. You’re the guy,” he says, with apparent sincerity, sweetening the pitch with a too-good-to-refuse cash offer.
After some hesitation, Nick agrees, but his pledge to “never lie” on behalf of the family will be tested early and often, from bailing out the son with political aspirations (William Baldwin) to the boozing daughter (Natalie Zea) who brightly announces to her husband that Nick “deflowered me” in their youth.
Minding the Darlings clearly represents a 24/7 gig, what with transsexuals, pill popping and affairs — and that, plus a gratuitous Dan Rather cameo, is all just in the pilot. The show practically provides its own built-in drinking game given how many times Nick’s name is invoked to solve some crisis, potentially driving a wedge between him and his wife (Zoe McLellan).
Like “Big Shots,” another ABC newcomer, the conceit hinges on the inherent fascination with the rich, assuming that they’re more fabulously screwed up than the rest of us and that while money doesn’t buy happiness, it can make problems and mistakes conveniently disappear. Think of it as “TMZ” from the perspective of those getting the camera shoved in their faces.
The series benefits from drawing upon Krause’s strengths — playing a character that’s resourceful but a little overwhelmed — with its brew of dark comedy and salacious drama. The pilot, however (one of three series under the very-busy Greg Berlanti’s stewardship), simply doesn’t demand that we follow along to see what prevails in this timeless struggle — Nick’s good-guy status, or the Darlings’ corrupting need for a fixer who will do whatever’s necessary. Nor does it help that with the exception of Sutherland’s suave power broker, the Darlings are initially such over-the-top cartoons as to blunt interest in whether they survive their respective scrapes.
Strictly as a billboard, “Dirty Sexy Money” sets the bar pretty high. Too bad the pilot can’t entirely live down to its title.