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Nip/Tuck

Watching the debut of fx network’s newest “edgy” teleseries Nip/Tuck last night, I found myself thinking of ol’ Jim Rockford.
As portrayed by James Garner in the classic 70’s crime series, Rockford was a hard-luck detective to the nth degree: he lived in a crappy trailer, barely eking out a living as an investigator, and though the show occasionally made a slight feint toward suggesting that he had a thing goin’ with a sexy A.D.A., the only enduring relationships we saw were with his old man, a world-weary cop and a snitch who would sell him out at a moment’s notice. A pretty depressing set-up if you thought about it too much, and the only thing that made it watchable for most viewers, I suspect, was the presence of Garner, an actor with such a surfeit of audience good-will that he’s even able to make some commercial hack’s doggerel sound palatable.
Jim Rockford, one of Garner’s greatest roles, was a prime exemplar of the Glad-I’m-Not-Him lead, a character type that’s attained greater pre-eminence in recent years. All three of fx’s big series – The Shield, Lucky and Nip/Tuck – are peopled by these figures: markedly flawed people who, at heart, mainly serve to remind the audience how good they’ve got it.

In Nip/Tuck, the focus is on two plastic surgeons, Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) and Christian Troy (Julian McMahon), who run a thriving Miami clinic. A pitch-dark dramedy centered around a ripe topic – our obsession with appearance and the inherent drama in “remaking” ourselves – the show strikes an unsuccessful balance between Discovery Channel grisliness and godawful soap opera that reached a new level of Glad-I’m-Not-Him televiewing. Not only did I feel good about not being any of the characters; I felt even better about not being one of the actors having to play these characters!
Writer/director Ryan Murphy has schematicized his series pretty cleanly: Doctor Sean is the “good” plastic surgeon, the one who gets to temporarily walk away from the duo’s thriving cosmetic surgery practice when he gets a flash of conscience, while Christian is the “smooth” plastic surgeon, the guy who thinks nuthin’ of seducing vacuous ambitious beauties in order to sell ’em on an expensive reshaping – or of lying to his partner when an odious Columbian drug type comes in to get his face changed. Sean’s married; Christian is not; and naturally Sean’s family doesn’t understand when he has his big moral epiphany. Wife Julia (Joely Richardson, a long way from Ellen) bemoans the fact that her husband won’t do a boob job on her and complains because she’s put her life on hold; teen-aged son Matt (John Hensley) is pissed because pop won’t let him get circumcised, thus forever ruining his chances of getting laid. If any of the actors were appealing in their roles, it might’ve been another matter. But an hour into the ninety-minute premiere, I was ready to send the whole whiney crew into the Bermuda Triangle on a makeshift raft.
The debut’s medical plot centered around Ortiz, the aforementioned Columbian drug guy, who – to pile bad on bad – also turns out to be a pedophiliac who has sexually abused his boss’ six-year-old daughter. After extensive surgery on his face (all done to the tune of the Stones’ “Paint It Black” – man, these guys are quick!), the Columbian decides to have his bay window liposuctioned: a decision that we know will lead to several characters getting sprayed by suctioned fat since we’ve seen that bit on the series promos airing over cable for the last month. The splattery scene delivers (it’s no Reanimator, but it’s still nicely gross), as does a moment when slickguy Christian gets interrogated by the patient’s former boss. Eager to find the missing Ortiz, the tattooed drug lord tortures Christian by repeatedly injecting him with botox. Guess where active cocksman Christian ultimately receives the needle. . .
At such gleefully sick moments, I was with the show. But if Murphy the screenwriter wants to keep me, he’s gonna need another writer on the dialog side because Nip/Tuck‘s premiere had some high camp groaners. Take this moment, when Doc Sean is fighting with wife Julia after she’s confronted him for not being involved with the family. I’m a doctor, he says; I’m concerned with saving lives. “On your watch a death has occurred,” his wife snaps back, “the death of you and me!” I don’t know who could’ve made that line sound natural, but it sure wasn’t Joely Richardson.
By the end of the premiere, Sean returns to the practice, of course, and Christian has displayed a bit of heroism by refusing to give his colleague up to the Columbian drug lord. (Personally, I think the little scumwad would’ve broken long before a needle went anywhere near his crotch.) In addition to the high-priced cosmetic jobs, we’re told, the partners’ clinic will now devote time to pro bono grafts and surgeries on people who really need it. I see a scene three or four eps down the line where Christian starts complaining about Sean doing so many freebies.
Boy, am I glad I’m not any of these people. . .

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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