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the take

Is ‘Dirty Sexy Money’ Dirty or Sexy Enough?

Not enough nuts were cracked on last night's Dirty Sexy Money.Courtesy of ABC

With its superrich protagonists, mischievous high jinks, come-hither title, and knockout cast, Dirty Sexy Money started this season as the front-runner for the year’s most pleasurable guilty pleasure, a winking Dallas for the post–Melrose Place generation. Last night, it wrapped up for the (strike-shortened) year with a performance of The Nutcracker. So has the show delivered on its delicious promise or fallen like a failed soufflé? Emily Nussbaum and Adam Sternbergh hash it out.

Nussbaum: Was last night's episode a finale or something? Like the last they have in stock?
Sternbergh: I believe it's the final new episode of the year, or maybe longer.
Nussbaum: That was a pretty inconclusive for a finale, or quasi-finale.
Sternbergh: It certainly smelled like a holiday episode, what with the Nutcracker and all.
Sternbergh: I'm going to say it right now:
Sternbergh: I'm off this show.
Sternbergh: To everyone who plans to hang in there, good luck and God speed.

Nussbaum: Tell me why you loathe it so.
Sternbergh: I don't loathe it. I just don't love it.
Nussbaum: Okay, Tell Me Why You Don't Love It.
Sternbergh: I'll start with the positives:
Sternbergh: fantastic cast
Sternbergh: nice clothes
Sternbergh: cute ladies
Sternbergh: and Donald Sutherland is my favorite thing to watch on TV ever.
Nussbaum: That could be said of The Nutcracker as well, except for the Sutherland part.
Sternbergh: Now, the negatives:
Sternbergh: I just don't care anymore.
Sternbergh: The stakes aren't high enough.
Sternbergh: Simon Elder is not a believable character in this or any universe.
Sternbergh: In my ideal version of this show, Carmelita would have been found bludgeoned to death, instead of "missing," but this show has no claws.
Nussbaum: I sense that they've invented Simon Elder to satisfy your often-expressed desire for a villain. But I agree, he's one weird antagonist.
Nussbaum: Slow-talking, laid-back, more opaque than malign.
Sternbergh: The show is too betwixt and between:
Sternbergh: not funny enough to be satire
Sternbergh: not realistic enough to be drama
Sternbergh: not camp enough to be, well, camp
Nussbaum: I like the show better than you, but I did think this episode was pretty bad, and it made me see what your objections were.
Nussbaum: It was way too soft and introspective — thirtysomething marbled with Dallas.
Nussbaum: The thing is, I still love the premise.
Nussbaum: And honestly, the cast sells it to me, so I'm willing to follow them down a few dead ends.
Nussbaum: Peter Krause rocks. I love that woman who plays Karen; she's making a shallow, manipulative bimbo fun and compelling. And Brian the priest is terrific.
Sternbergh: Yes, Brian is great.
Sternbergh: But come on — that kiss between Jeremy Darling and Peter Krause's wife came from nowhere and meant nothing.
Sternbergh: That's what I mean about stakes.
Nussbaum: It's true, I didn't buy that kiss. It was like she was kissing a stoned Smurf.
Sternbergh: In general, Peter Krause rocks. But he is kind of wasted on this show. He always plays the same emotion: bemused exasperation.
Nussbaum: Part of my love for this show is that I still see tons of potential, especially in Krause's inevitable corruption.
Sternbergh: But in order for Krause to be drawn to the Dark Side, there has to be a Dark Side.
Sternbergh: So far there's only a Slightly Gray Side.
Nussbaum: There are moments I really enjoy — like at Karen's wedding, when Krause's daughter saw the insane amounts of wealth and told Brian's son, I'm going to live like this and I don't care what it takes.
Nussbaum: It was hilarious to see that the real danger was not to Krause — it was to a 9-year-old.
Nussbaum: But I agree about the Gray Side.
Nussbaum: I don't get this Simon Elder thing. He's a massively powerful, connected, cultish figure, with resources, black consciousness, Russian background, and some mysterious do-gooder-ish-yet-malign motives?
Nussbaum: And Karen scheming was not some shocker revelation.
Sternbergh: Yeah, that was pretty obvious. But let her be a schemer! Not someone who gets her feelings hurt by the woman from Serenity.
Nussbaum: WHAT? Was that her?
Sternbergh: Gina Torres, baby. I preferred her kicking ass in space.
Nussbaum: Oh, man, now I'm doomed. I'm not going to stop watching a show with Torres.
Nussbaum: Why do you hate Carmelita?
Sternbergh: I like her. But that story's going nowhere. And instead of Patrick Darling being like John John
Nussbaum: Pat-Pat.
Sternbergh: He's this emasculated wishy-washy simp.
Nussbaum: Let's suggest new plots.
Sternbergh: For starters, Karen needs to go into full-on nuclear bitch mode.
Sternbergh: And someone needs to get killed off, pronto.
Sternbergh: Carmelita.
Nussbaum: Oh no! I think maybe Patrick's chin-dimpled wifey.
Nussbaum: Then frame him.
Sternbergh: Nice! And that Seychelles dude better turn out to be a serious psycho too.
Nussbaum: I wish Brian had stayed a priest. He can do more damage in the pulpit.
Nussbaum: I think they have this (accurate) idea about wealthy heirs being drawn to cultish, reassuring pseudo-religions.
Nussbaum: I remember watching Rich Girls and being struck by how those girls never stopped talking Oprah jargon.
Nussbaum: And they're trying to weave it in, but it's way too random, with Seychelles guy and Simon Elder and all this talk about Jesus.
Sternbergh: I feel like, in general, the show hasn't had the courage of its convictions.
Sternbergh: Juliet was clearly modeled on the Paris Hiltons of the world…
Nussbaum: But she's a viiiiiirrrrrgin.
Sternbergh: And we have to like her too.
Sternbergh: We have to like everyone, which is the show's biggest problem.
Sternbergh: Everyone's hearts are so busy melting, it's made the show too soggy.
Nussbaum: And also, they're so aware of the cliché of the super-evil rich, they're trying to subvert it before they even use it properly.
Sternbergh: Plus that tinkly background music drives me nuts. It's like having a children's choir singing "whimsy, whimsy, whimsy!"
Nussbaum: Let's recast the villain.
Sternbergh: I vote now for Clark. The evil driver!
Nussbaum: The Carmelita killer.
Nussbaum: The butler did it.
Sternbergh: You know what was the representative scene for me? The splash of red nail polish on the carpet.
Sternbergh: That's the problem with this show: It's all nail polish. No blood.
Nussbaum: You've been watching too much Dexter, buddy.
Nussbaum: The real nutcracker.

Earlier: Who Will Be the J.R. of ‘Dirty Sexy Money’?