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
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.
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.