Judge David M. Gutierrez would say Nip/Tuck: The Complete First Season is a cut above, but he's beyond such obvious statements.
Our reviews of Nip/Tuck: The Complete Second Season (published October 15th, 2005), Nip/Tuck: The Complete Third Season (published October 16th, 2006), Nip/Tuck: The Complete Fourth Season (published December 1st, 2007), Nip/Tuck: Season Five, Part One (published December 23rd, 2008), Nip/Tuck: The Complete Series (published November 19th, 2010), and Nip/Tuck: The Sixth And Final Season (published June 8th, 2010) are also available.
"Take off your judgmental blinders, Sean. The line that divides the porn industry and plastic surgery is a thin one. We're both selling fantasy, aren't we?"—Christian Troy
Everyone thinks there's something about him or her that needs fixing. In today's world, the need to implant, lift, tuck, pinch, enlarge, or expand body parts has long since ceased being an extreme act of self-mutilation. Two doctors in Miami, Florida have capitalized on this medical phenomenon and built their lives around it. On the surface everything looks glamorous, sexy, and pristine, but it's life's underbelly that houses the deceit, the secrets, and the excrement. Nip/Tuck: The Complete First Season carves away at what we think we want and serves up everything we don't. It's a fun ride of guilty excess and dark pleasures topped with hokey sprinkles.
Facts of the Case
Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh, Blood Work) and Christian Troy (Julian McMahon, Charmed) own and operate a plastic surgery practice. Sean is a responsible, quiet, and repressed family man; Christian is James Bond with a scalpel. Like Lennon and McCartney, despite their obvious personality differences, both make up for each other's deficiencies and serve to remind one another of everything they loathe about themselves. Christian leads the life most men want, while Sean leads the life most men end up leading. Since both are in their early forties, they are quickly approaching a midlife crisis.
Nip/Tuck doesn't make any apologies or try to conceal what it is: a sexy soap opera. Everything is beautiful, even the ugliest of it. The series revels in it hyper-reality and yet continues to remain anchored through its cast.
With the exception of the pilot, every episode is titled after featured patients undergoing a surgical procedure. Five discs hold all thirteen episodes, plus some very Special Features. Heavy spoilers follow, so beware:
"Pilot"—Sean and Christian introduce the divide between their lives, through intercut sex scenes. Sean and his wife, Julia (Joely Richardson, The Affair of the Necklace), engage in passionless, bland intercourse; Christian does lines of coke off a model's behind and makes wild monkey love. Later, Christian screws up and agrees to perform surgery on a man connected and hunted by drug lord Escobar Gallardo (Robert LaSardo, NYPD Blue). After turning down operating on a burn victim, Sean has a crisis of conscience and wants to leave the practice. Christian and Julia share a moment that will have an impact on the remainder of the season. Sean's son Matt wants a circumcision because the kids at school are mocking him. Sean and Christian almost part ways but are forced back together when Gallardo seeks revenge. Pay close attention, as this episode's finale sets up events that are revisited toward the end of the season. The show's format is established as well as the characters. Already off to a great start, we find Sean as a man in crisis and Christian as very likeable jerk with redeeming qualities. We also meet Liz (Roma Maffia, Profiler, the caustic and funny anesthesiologist, and Kimber (Kelly Carlson, Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation), the complex supermodel. Also set in stone is the show's use of music while operating—yet another show incorporating the music video/montage element a la Homicide: Life on the Street and CSI. Watch for Christian's assessment of Kimber's appearance the morning after in the pilot's best character moment. (Grade: 95)
"Mandi/Randi"—As a condition of remaining partners, Sean and Christian take on a psychiatrist to help weed out potentially bad surgical candidates. Julia employs a cruel and surprising method to end her rodent woes. Sean moves out and makes a move on psychiatrist Grace Santiago. When Christian meets with some sexual problems (he can't get Julia out of his head), he makes a difficult choice between his friend and his friend's wife. In a truly stupid move, Matt tries to correct his problem himself. This episode is named after a set of twins that want surgery to look dissimilar. Unfortunately, this is one of a handful of episodes to feature Grace Santiago. We are introduced to possibly one of the eeriest opening sequences I have ever seen. (Grade: 90)
"Nanette Babcock"—Matt has to undergo surgery to correct his home remedy. Sean and Grace turn down Nanette Babcock, a hard-luck obese woman who seems too determined to look attractive for her high school reunion. Christian's baby, his car, gets vandalized. Christian immediately suspects Nanette, but events will prove him wrong. When Sean flubs a simple tummy tuck, itÕs a mistake that he and Christian will pay for over the remainder of the season. Matt discovers his cheerleader girlfriend's secret. This episode introduces us to recurring patient and thorn in McNamara/Troy's side, Mrs. Gluckman. (Grade: 95)
"Sofia Lopez"—Transsexual Sofia Lopez (Jonathan Del Arco) brings out the Samaritan in Sean. In an effort to drum up business, Christian attends a porn party with Sean's son in tow, leaving Matt to deal with the ramifications of casual flings. Sean investigates the botched jobs Sofia and her friends have undergone and finds someone from his past is responsible. Julia goes back to school and meets Jude, a young student who will play a large part in Julia's arc this season. When Julia discovers Matt's porn party attendance, she confronts Christian. Christian considers a job offer from former schoolmate and rival Merril Bobolit (Joey Slotnick, The Single Guy). (Grade: 90)
"Kurt Dempsey"—This week's spotlight is on Kurt Dempsey, a man who wants his eyes doctored to look more Asian. After concluding Christian needs help, Grace recommends he attend a sex addicts support group. Julia learns she's pregnant, but that she must remain bedridden until she delivers—news that sits well with Sean but not so much with Julia. At his sexual addiction recovery meeting, Christian meets and sleeps his sponsor, Gina (Jessalyn Gissig, NYPD Blue), a disturbing and troubled woman. Christian also breaks some professional boundaries and sleeps with Grace. This episode sets up several plots that will pay off later this season. (Grade: 90)
"Megan O'Hara"—The plight of recent cancer survivor Megan O'Hara (Julie Warner, Doc Hollywood) touches Sean deeply. Matt is extended a provocative invitation by his ex-girlfriend. Christian's past comes back to haunt him repeatedly in the form of an assault and more vandalism. Christian catches Sean breaking a marriage vow and professional agreement. (Grade: 95)
"Cliff Mantegna"—Christian and Kimber try to take their relationship to new sexual heights, when patient Cliff Mantegna introduces them to an exclusive swinging party. Julia gets Jude an internship at McNamara/Troy. After Matt is caught in bed with his ex and her girlfriend, Julia and Sean host a revealing and awkward sexual intervention with the girls' parents. Julia puts Christian in his place while Sean takes the first steps to adultery. Best moment of this episode: Sean talking to Matt about being a good person. Honestly, it's touching and got me a little teary-eyed. (Grade: 90)
"Cara Fitzgerald"—Matt and his friend, Henry, hit a classmate, Cara Fitzgerald, while driving under the influence. Sean and Christian make yet another surgical misstep, when they remove an incriminating birthmark from a suspected child molester in hiding. We learn quite a bit about Christian's childhood trauma. Nice reveal, but poor execution of Christina's past. It's quite a leap to think the child molester couldn't foresee his television appearance setting off any alarms. (Grade: 75)
"Sophia Lopez II"—Christian and Merril agree to make a trade for Kimber. After an encounter with Liz, Sophia has second thoughts about going through with the final procedure to make him a woman. Julia learns some disturbing facts about Jude. In an act of misunderstanding, Sean tells Matt about his affair. Megan receives some tragic news. Kimber teaches Christian a lesson in sexual psychosis. (Grade: 95)
"Montana/Sassy/Justice"—Sean and Grace debate if surgery will facilitate the merging of a patient's multiple personalities. Sean and Christian have to requalify on a medical exam to continue practicing. The show takes a turn for the surreal, when Sean's test head comes to life and begins to question him about aiding Megan in her suicide. Chickens come home to roost for Christian, when he learns he's going to be a father. Unfortunately, the very unstable Gina is the mother-to-be. Just what is it about Christian and the crazy ladies? Sean confesses his affair to Julia. This is the most touching episode of the season showcasing Dylan Walsh's acting chops. (Grade: 95)
"Antonia Ramos"—The series begins its final arc. Gallardo returns, blackmailing the boys into removing heroin filled breast implants from immigrants smuggled in as models. In the better storyline, Sophia experiences discrimination at Julia's health club. Christian learns the pros and cons of living with a pregnant woman, when Gina moves into his house. Watch for a comedic highlight, when a baby goods salesman tells Christian all about the benefits of making love to expectant mothers. Gallardo pays the McNamara family a visit. While the heroin implant story teeters on foolish ridiculousness, it does serve a purpose. Despite the show's tongue-in-cheek quality, it is a hard pill to swallow. (Grade: 85)
"Escobar Gallardo"—The final episode wraps everything up and leaves the door open for a couple of storylines for next season. After things go violently awry during another heroin-filled implant removal, Sean loses it and confronts Gallardo in one of the best moments of the series. Gina gives birth and surprises everyone with the results. Sean and Christian hatch a plan to get Gallardo off their backs once and for all. The series loses some credibility when their plan bears fruit. It's something that doesn't hold up, if you think about it for a couple of seconds, nor can I see how it really serves to save their lives. Julia's suspicions of Matt's paternity are confirmed (only not to the audience). Julia and Sean reconcile, but if it will work out is anyone's guess. While this episode ends with a sense of hope and triumph and has a great scene with Gallardo and Sean, the writers and producers don't deliver the goods as well as in previous episodes. (Grade: 75)
This show is something else. I love series that try. Even if they fail miserably, it's refreshing to see a program that doesn't take itself too seriously and will literally try everything once. Nip/Tuck is all things a soap opera like Dallas couldn't be, but should. It isn't high art, but it's damn entertaining.
The engine that pulls the series' train is the friendship between Sean and Christian. As series producer and creator Ryan Murphy explains, Nip/Tuck is a friendship/love story about two straight men. Sean and Christian are really brothers without the common genes. Their relationship is tested, fails, and rebuilds several times over thirteen episodes. Both men will willingly and unknowingly do each other immeasurable harm, and yet somehow everything turns out all right.
Since this series doesn't necessarily have a villain (although Gallardo does become the season's "big bad") or a good vs. evil set-up, the characters determine dramatic direction. Sean and Christian make an awful lot of mistakes and keep paying for them throughout the season. Despite its nicely tied-in-a-bow ending, everything that occurs is due to snowballing character flaws. One of the great strengths of the show lies within its serial soap opera dramatics. The ongoing Sean/Julia/Christian love triangle that branches off and sucks in Grace, Kimber, Jude, Megan, Gina and every other woman Christian discards, makes for a number of storylines with ramifications in every episode.
Acting and sharp dialogue anchors the show. As Sean, Dylan Walsh consistently delivers a solid performance. The man has no trouble playing it straight, depressed, awkward, or funny. Even in the most ludicrous of situations, he always comes off as sincere and honest. Best Sean moments include his attempts to be a modern father by handing his son a condom and remarking on how hot his son's girlfriend is. Watch for Sean's transformation from passionless, prudish trapped soul to bold, avenging man-of-action. It's good stuff. It's no easy task to equal Walsh in performance, but Julian McMahon's Christian Troy gets it done. Even when he's smug, McMahon manages to throw in subtle moments of pain and regret to Christian's jerky demeanor. McMahon convinces me that Christian says what he thinks he should, not what he believes or feels. I doubt Christian's need for family and stability could have been conveyed as well by anyone else. When the two are onscreen, either arguing or repairing the damage they have wrought on each other's lives, it comes across as real and true. I've always thought the mark of a good actor is when I can't see anyone else playing their parts, as these two have done. Watching Sean and Christian change, moving subtlety toward becoming each other, is a real treat. Everyone in the cast is excellent. Joely Richardson imbues Julia with passion, confusion, and torment. She doesn't always have a lot to do, but when she's onscreen it's completely understandable why Jude, Sean, and Christian feel the way they do about her. Also terrific was Robert Lasardo as narcotics entrepreneur Escobar Gallardo. He plays one scary bastard, taking a cliché and filling it with depth. I'd like to see more for this guy, although a repeat appearance on the show is doubtful. Jonathon Del Arco will make you feel as Sofia Lopez. He stole the show. I hope to see more of him/her for the show's sophomore season. Kelly Carlson as Kimber will take you by surprise just as she did Christian. When she's introduced, I expected to see just another model/actress (in that order). I was pleasantly surprised by her performance.
Nip/Tuck receives a nice Anamorphic widescreen transfer. Image being a huge series theme, it's important that the show look as sharp and stunning as it does. The colors are lush and bold. I didn't notice any problems. Good surround sound treatment as well. Since the show features at least one musical montage per episode, it is imperative the series sound good. Thankfully, it looks and sounds as it should. This DVD doesn't need any work in the transfer department.
Special features include three making-of documentaries. "Giving Drama a Face Lift" provides good background on the development of the series. I had forgotten McMahon and Richardson were Australian and English. They hide their accents so well. "Realistic Expectations: The Practice of Plastic Surgery" features three actual plastic surgeons. This featurette provides a nice balance to the fantasy of show. "Are They Real or Fake: The Miraculous Makeup Effects of Nip/Tuck." The title says it all. Ten minutes of how they fake the surgeries and other special effects miracles of the series. For fans of actors flubbing their lines and breaking character, check out the "Severed Parts" gag reel. Also included is the music video for the show's theme song, "A Perfect Lie." Now that you've seen Season One, watch a preview for Season Two in the "Nip/Tuck Teaser Trailer." My favorite special feature is the deleted scenes. Thank you, Warner Brothers, for including a brief description of the cut scene and where it originally fell in the episode. While I can see why some of the scenes were cut (scenes from "Randi/Mandi" come to mind), a majority of them actually enhance the overall Nip/Tuck story. I won't give anything away, but there are some nice reveals that would otherwise go unnoticed. I'd have liked a commentary. Are you reading this, Warner Brothers? Commentary. Think about it.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Nothing is without its flaws. Since the show aired on FX, it's allowed some profane leeway. However, at times it can go a bit too far for the sake of going too far. While I'm perfectly fine with nudity and crassness, sometimes it felt as though shots were composed to test the limits of what could pass the censors.
Additionally, some of the story elements were just way too out there. Heroin filled implants? Yes, it's a problem only plastic surgeons could tackle, but it did tax my suspension of disbelief. If not for the dialogue, acting and subplots, I don't know if I could have stuck around. I know it's not supposed to be reality, but what comes next, Julian gets possessed?
The show tries to show the dirty part of beauty but occasionally ends up celebrating the dark side of appearance instead of critiquing it. Also, Sean and Christian don't suffer the consequences of their actions as fully as they probably should. It's much easier for Sean and Julia to deal with his infidelity, when his mistress dies. I'm willing to forgive this since it opens up some great dramatic moments, but I can't do the same for Christian and the solution to his pending fatherhood. The show takes an easy out, when Gina's baby is born.
Despite its faults, Nip/Tuck is a terrific show and a great DVD set. A word of caution: The series has an intentional pace of a weekly show, each episode self-contained with ongoing subplots. Watched in one sitting, the show will feel rushed and compressed. It's especially awkward as plots unfold at a normal pace but a pregnancy goes from zygote to six months to full term in about four episodes.
Nip/Tuck: The Complete First Season makes a welcome addition to the shelf, especially with its eye-catching lenticular cover. Thirteen relatively strong episodes wrapped up in a nice, attractive package. Since first seasons are when a show works out the kinks, Season Two should prove even better. Watch it. It's good fun.
Nip/Tuck: The Complete First Season is cut loose. Good job, Warner Brothers, but be warned: I will call you back to this courtroom if you don't include some commentary the next go 'round.
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Studio: Warner Bros.
• "Giving Drama a Facelift" Featurette
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