In times of what we might charitably call flexible morality, the most effective moralists are those whom people don’t even realize are moralists.
Moliere earned acclaim as a wicked wit by brilliantly lampooning the hypocrisies of seventeenth century France, Jonathan Swift was widely admired while skewering the pretensions of the Enlightenment, and Aldous Huxley received accolades from twentieth century intellectuals while mocking their utopian schemes.
A more humble but equally intentional modern purveyor of this sort of stealth moralizing is the new ABC-TV series Dirty Sexy Money, premiering tonight.
The show presents plenty of the muck the title promises, but it also has a sound moral foundation just under the surface sleaze. In the first dialogue scene of the initial episode, Tripp Darling (Donald Sutherland), patriarch of New York’s wealthiest family, quickly raises the issue of moral probity when he tells charity-oriented lawyer Nick George why he wants him to serve as the family’s attorney after the death of Nick’s father, who was the Darlings’ trusted counselor for forty years (a revealingly Biblical number): “You have a moral center,” Tripp says. “I miss having that solid citizen by my side to tell me which way is up. And I trust you.”
Nick, ego and moral passions equally inflamed, takes the position after getting the proposed salary increased to $10 million a year with a goodly amount to go to his charitable organization. Naturally, it turns out that even that much money is insufficient compensation for all the folly he must endure.
Tripp’s daughter Karen says that Nick is the only man she ever loved, and keeps trying to seduce him even though he’s happily married to another woman and she’s about to marry for the fourth time. Younger daughter Juliet has even more serious problems, attempting suicide after finding out that her father has bought for her an acting role she thought she had earned. Tripp’s enigmatic wife, Letitia (Jill Clayburgh), is all good manners and icy remoteness.
Eldest son Patrick, the attorney general of New York (in a superb performance by William Baldwin), is married and has children but is in love with a transvestite. Middle son Brian is an Episcopal priest with a bad temper, worse manners, and a secret illegitimate child. Youngest son Jeremy, Juliet’s fraternal twin, is a classic playboy wastrel.