Sure, he's cheating on his wife, and the details of the affair are the kind that can take down a pol's career: The other woman is transgender. But, Baldwin argues, the character isn't actively seeking to hurt his family. He just can't help himself.
"I'm married and I've got kids and all these blessings in my life," he says of Patrick Darling, the scion of an obscenely wealthy New York family, the state's attorney general and a soon-to-be senatorial candidate. "And even though I truly respect and appreciated that, at the same time there's this sort of self-destruct button in all of us. ... We can't help but try to find a way to f*** everything up."
That self-destructive impulse is on full display in "Dirty Sexy Money," which debuts at 10 p.m. ET Wednesday (Sept. 26). The show centers on Nick George (Peter Krause of "Six Feet Under"), a do-gooding lawyer whose father was counsel to the Darling family. Following the elder George's death, Darling patriarch Tripp (Donald Sutherland) persuades Nick to take his dad's old job cleaning up the family's messes, which are numerous.
Created by former "Six Feet Under" writer Craig Wright, the show takes the template of 1980s soaps like "Dallas" and "Dynasty" and adds a healthy dose of satire to the mix. Natalie Zea ("Eyes"), who plays Patrick's sister Karen, a thrice-married socialite who carries a torch for Nick, says having such a broad canvas allows her lots of room to play with her character.
"She's big, yeah. When we were making the pilot I said, Look -- I'm going to take this really, really far, so pull me back if I go too far," Zea says. "Then I saw it and I was like, I didn't go that far. I think my perception of broad comedy is so warped -- if I move a muscle [it's too much]. But there's a freedom I've been given to take it to an extreme."
Though the show revels in its sendup of the overprivileged, it also examines the way power and wealth can corrupt and isolate people. The Darlings have never had to be part of the everyday, and as a result they don't really know how to behave within it.
"It's such a foreign concept to me," Zea says. "Someone asked me the other day why money is so seductive, and I said I don't know. I don't have that relationship with money. I'm not currently in a position where I can imagine wanting for nothing."
Of course, there's wanting for nothing and wanting something different, which seems to be the underlying motivation behind Patrick's affair: the desire to break away from a pre-ordained path.
"That's the ongoing struggle: What does he want, and is he doing it for the right reasons," says Baldwin, whose movie credits include "The Squid and the Whale" and "Backdraft." "It's not something I can answer [yet], because I don't know now. ... My instinct is that he does want [to run for the Senate] and wants it for the right reasons, but there are obstacles preventing that from coming forth."
And, despite the very expensive trappings of "Dirty Sexy Money," that's a struggle Baldwin thinks most people will recognize. He offers an elaborate analogy involving a dartboard, with the outermost ring representing the things everyone knows about someone and each successive ring being information shared with a smaller circle of people.
"The bull's eye is the s**t [for which] we can't even look at ourselves in the mirror ... and this show wants to bring the audience on the journey through what the best friend knows, what the wife knows, what the shrink knows and the wife doesn't, and what only you know," he says.
"When you're in there, you're laughing and saying 'That's great' and 'I love that,' but then you say, 'Whoa -- you know what, I have in the dark recesses of my mind thought about that or acted on that. I've done that but no one knows.' Everybody's got that."