Long before The Swan introduced America to the satanic side of plastic surgery, there was Nip/Tuck (FX; season premiered on June 22), the cable drama series about a pair of South Beach, Florida, doctors that made The Sopranos look like a bastion of morality. The Parents Television Council rallied boycotts, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons called it "an abomination," and the content limits of advertiser-supported TV were pushed so far that a stretch-mark zinger could too easily be dropped right here.
Nip/Tuck also became basic cable's highest-rated new show of 2003, received unprecedented Golden Globe nominations, and almost unanimously won over that godless pack known as television critics. Hell in a handbasket, made to order.
The alternately darkly comic and darkly dark debut season introduced college friends Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) and Christian Troy (Julian McMahon), business partners in a burgeoning plastic-surgery business nicely situated in a sunny town of superficial rich folk. Sean's the nice-guy workaholic whose long marriage to Julia (Joely Richardson) seems to be evaporating; Christian's the playboy opportunist who goes through women like rubber gloves and will take any client--illegal, immoral or otherwise--as long as they pay.
The overarching theme for Nip/Tuck was, you can make people beautiful on the outside, but they're still ugly psychological messes on the inside. Simple enough, but then things got weird.
In the beginning of the premiere episode last July, Christian took a huge chunk of under-the-table cash from a fugitive Columbian drug lord to give him a new face; by the end, Sean and Christian are feeding said drug lord's fresh corpse to alligators in the swamp. It was an eerily touching moment of bonding, as well as a mild precursor of what was to come over the next 12 weeks.
In fact, if the first three episodes of Season 2 are any indication, the entirety of Nip/Tuck's first was just a toe in the waters of what a network can get away with on basic cable--even late at night and preceded by a virtual alphabet of TV ratings labels. All of last year's graphic medical scenes, equally graphic sexual encounters (innumerable for Christian; one extramarital for Sean), deaths, deceptions, paternities, felonies and gerbilcides (one of Julia's rare moments of weakness)? Get the Season 1 DVD; it's possible they'll now look like pleasant memories from Everwood.
With most of their problems conveniently eradicated at the end of last season (a cut-rate competitor, blackmailing drug dealers, pesky moral centers, all gone), Sean and Christian are on top of the world--too bad they're both turning 40. Christian's youth drug of choice is self-prescribed Botox ("We're plastic surgeons; looking our age is as bad as having stained carpet in the waiting room"), while Sean's developing an addiction to anti-anxiety meds due to a phantom nervous tic that's affecting his surgical touch. (And, as a side note, how have we gone 20 years and never realized what a perfect background song for radical facial reconstruction Billy Idol's "Eyes Without a Face" is?)
Adding to Christian's own aging concerns, he can't seem to nail every woman he lays eyes on as before--patients (potential and current), nanny candidates for his newborn "son" Wilbur (baby came out African-American, mother's not, oops), Julia's mom (for the second time, we learn), sure, but he's striking out occasionally, too. Still, Christian's naked ass is getting more screen time this season than Sean's angsty son/dead-end plot device Matt (John Hensley), and there's nothing wrong with that (it's a damn fine ass, even I'll admit it).
Amid all of Nip/Tuck's newly unfolding drama, sex, blood and myriad "No! Freakin'! Way!" moments (just try and keep up), Christian gets most of the plum black-comedy moments, too, and some probable television firsts: One involving Wilbur's mom (Jessalyn Gilsig) and built-up breast milk in need of emergency expression (fetishist alert), another of the absolute oddest way to break your nose during oral intercourse (sneeze alert).
Parents Television Council, American Society of Plastic Surgeons, et al: Gird thy loins.
Bill Frost is the music and TV editor for Salt Lake City Weekly