TV Review: 'Dirty Sexy Money'

Peter Krause does exasperated exceptionally well, and he gets to do it a lot in ABC's crackling new soap "Dirty Sexy Money."

A postmodern take on the "Dallas"-"Dynasty"-"Falcon Crest" sagas of the 1980s, "Dirty Sexy Money" (premiering at 10 p.m. ET Wednesday, Sept. 26) goes back to the oft-dipped well of chronicling the foibles and follies of the super-rich. However, it has the advantage of being in on its own joke, and aided by a deep and talented cast, most of the characters seem recognizably human.

At the center of everything is Nick George (Krause, "Six Feet Under"), an attorney whose practice is built around helping those who don't have the means to fight their own fights. We learn quickly that although his dad was also a lawyer, Nick is following a markedly different career path. His father, Dutch, was consigliere to the Darlings, a family of old-money billionaires -- think Vanderbilts and Astors -- with enough skeletons to fill an entire wing of their opulent mansion.

His father's job drove Nick's mom away, and the boy grew up in the shadow of all that wealth. It left a bitter taste in his mouth, and Nick has spent the better part of his adult life trying to wash it out.

When his father dies, though, Nick gets an offer from Tripp Darling (Donald Sutherland, having a grand old time) to take over as the family's counsel. It's a sweet deal: Nick gets to keep his other practice, plus $10 million a year to do charitable works in his dad's name. Too sweet to turn down, Nick reasons to his skeptical wife (Zoe McLellan).

Her doubts turn out to be well-placed as, unsurprisingly, the Darlings soon come to consume his every waking hour. Whether it's a pre-nup for eldest daughter Karen (Natalie Zea), who still has a thing for Nick, the transfer of a yacht youngest son Jeremy (Seth Gabel) won in a poker game or dealing with first son Patrick's (William Baldwin) extramarital affair with a transgender woman, Nick gets sucked in quickly.

Here's where Krause's skill at playing frustration comes in. Nick is the audience's stand-in, and even though he knows these people reasonably well, he still can't quite fathom what it's like to have that much money. While he's frequently repulsed by the actions of his clients, he can't help but be a little seduced by that wealth. It's a Faustian bargain, one that gets all the more complicated when he discovers that someone in the family may have been involved in his father's death.

The danger with any nighttime soap is that it will devolve into self-parody, but creator Craig Wright, like Krause a veteran of "Six Feet Under," seems to have a good sense of where that line is. The show presents viewers with some pretty outrageous situations, but within that setup the characters behave in emotionally honest ways. I wouldn't go so far as to call the Darlings sympathetic, but nor are they mustache-twistingly eeevil (a notable exception is Glenn Fitzgerald's Brian Darling, an Episcopal minister who acts like a petulant 6-year-old most of the time). Throwing a little gray into an often black-and-white genre serves the show quite well.

Krause and Sutherland are the standout performers, but the cast -- Jill Clayburgh and Samaire Armstrong are also regulars -- is strong throughout. Baldwin hams it up a bit -- at times you'd swear he's doing an impression of his brother Alec -- but he's also charming as the conflicted Patrick and shares several good scenes with Krause. Even Armstrong, playing a Paris-esque party girl, finds a little bit of depth in her character.

ABC sent two episodes to critics, and the second (which will actually air as the show's third) was right in line with the pace and tone of the pilot. That's an encouraging sign that the show's writers have a handle on where they want to go. If they keep walking that line, "Dirty Sexy Money" will be one heck of an entertaining ride.

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