Judge Patrick Bromley. Joan Rivers. Plastic surgery. What more could you ask for?
Our reviews of Nip/Tuck: The Complete First Season (published June 17th, 2004), Nip/Tuck: The Complete Second Season (published October 15th, 2005), 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.
Make me beautiful.
The FX network, basic cable's answer to HBO, is building itself a rather impressive slate of original programming: The Shield, the great Rescue Me, and Ryan Murphy's Nip/Tuck. Now that Nip/Tuck's third season is available on DVD, we can answer the question: does the show have legs? If not, they can fix it. They're doctors.
Facts of the Case
Spoilers to follow…
The third season of Nip/Tuck picks up exactly where Season Two left off: Christian has survived his recent attack by the Carver, but it's left more scars then he thinks; Julia (Joely Richardson, Return to Me) is finally looking for a divorce from Sean. The McNamara's son, Matt (John Hensley, Campfire Stories), remains emotionally adrift after his breakup with his transsexual girlfriend, leading to some major identity confusion and more than one bad choice. Kimber (Kelly Carlson, The Marine) expands her porn empire and takes up with a separated Sean. A new surgeon, Dr. Quentin Costa (Bruno Campos, Mimic 2) is brought in to pick up some of Christian's slack, but adds up doing more harm than good in the doctors' lives. A female police officer (Rhona Mitra, Hollow Man) begins digging into the doctors' lives. Gina (Jessalyn Gilsig, See This Movie) talks Julia into opening a recuperative spa for surgery patients. Joan Rivers shows up again.
And then there are those Carver attacks, which keep getting worse…
Dr. Sean McNamara and Dr. Christian Troy stand next to a Florida swamp. They are covered in human body fat, which sprayed all over them during a disastrous liposuction. Christian's face is swollen and paralyzed, having been overdosed with Botox during a particularly miserable torture session. They're feeding the dead body of a patient—a facially-reconstructed pedophile killed by his brother on the operating table—to some hungry alligators, so as not to be killed by a tattooed drug dealer who's angry over stolen money. This is how pilot episode of Ryan Murphy's Nip/Tuck concluded, and it was one of the strangest, darkest, and funniest moments of any television show in recent years.
I'm sorry to say, however, that the show has not been able to capture that combination in quite the same way again—though not for lack of trying. It finds one or two of those elements at a time, but the total mix hasn't been right since that first episode. That doesn't mean that in Season Three, the series isn't still fearless. It is, and that's both its blessing and its curse. As enjoyable as it can be to watch the show go gloriously over the top, there's too often a sense of the writers losing control of the reins. There doesn't always seem to be a master plan in mind (think of superior shows like The Sopranos, where you know each and every move has been calculated ahead of time), leaving a sense that the creative team is making things up as they go along. That would help to explain the season's biggest problem (and one that seems to be persisting, even as Season Four gets its start on FX): the writers don't seem to know what to do with some of the storylines they create.
Sean and Julia's marital status is possibly the biggest victim of this; it's been like a ping-pong match since the show's beginning watching the writers make up their minds on what to do with these two. The same goes for the oddly androgynous Matt; by the third time he's fallen in with a crowd that wants to manipulate and possibly exploit him, we get the sense that the show is just repeating itself. Christian's ex, Gina, is diagnosed with HIV, but nothing ever comes of it. The girls open a spa, but nothing ever comes of it. These events just become chapters in the series, not in the characters' lives—they don't learn or grow from them, and the overall narrative is seldom enhanced. Even the Carver storyline—the driving narrative behind all of Season Three (grabbing on to the "murder mystery" hook smacks of some desperation, but it works)—doesn't ever really pay off. Not only is the ultimate identity fairly obvious, but the answers don't make much sense when thinking back through the season. It's a bit of a cheat.
What makes Nip/Tuck as compelling and fun as it is—and it's nothing if not that—is how gleefully it embraces its own trashiness. The show celebrates sex, beauty, money, sex, celebrity, violence, cruelty, and sex with hedonistic abandon—so much so that when it does attempt to take time out and moralize, you feel the awkwardness of the shift. Perhaps even more noteworthy is that it never devolves into Melrose Place-esque camp. There's no winking sense of irony in place ("See how funny this all is?"), and no attempt to convince the viewer of his or her own superiority to the material. These characters are just allowed to exist in their off-center world, governed by its own morality and value system. There's a reason that while Sean may be its Conscience, Christian (Julian McMahon) is so good here that we're reminded of just how badly miscast he was as Dr. Doom in the lamentable Fantastic Four is the show's soulless Soul. Nastiness can be fun. Take it or leave it.
Warner Bros. releases Nip/Tuck: The Complete Third Season pretty much just like its releases of the previous two seasons: fifteen episodes, spread out over six discs, all presented in gorgeous 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfers. The 2.0 stereo audio track gets the job done, too; the bass during the show's opening theme (which, while we're on the subject, is one of the more disappointing themes for a show I like this much) always buzzes my sub-woofer just enough to get me in the mood. There aren't much in the way of extras, save for some deleted scenes and a couple of frivolous featurettes. It might have been nice to include a commentary from an actor or two, or even the show's creator, Ryan Murphy (who's first feature film, Running With Scissors, is days away from hitting theaters as of this writing).
Give it some time. The swelling should go down soon.
Guilty only of excess, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "Severed Parts": Unaired Scenes
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