If FX’s signature series ”The Shield” is ”NYPD Blue” on Rogaine and steroids, its new entry Nip/Tuck is ”Six Feet Underdone”: There are bodies lying in wait – not in a morgue, but in a swank Miami plastic-surgery practice. And the show’s protagonists aren’t neurotic morticians seeking idiosyncratic self-improvement – they’re smug doctors nicked by guilt and seeking self-improvement straight outta ”Dr. Phil”: ”For 10 years I’ve been consumed with transforming other people,” sputters Dr. Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) in the pilot. ”Starting today, I’m transforming myself!”
Ick. If only Sean were just talking about getting his crow’s-feet smoothed out. But noooo: He’s referring to things like his troubled marriage to the brittle Julia (Joely Richardson), who says she hasn’t had an orgasm in two years and proceeds to take it out on the family pet gerbil by flushing it down the toilet (displacing rage, ”Finding Nemo”-style!). There’s also his distant relationship with his two children, especially teen son Matt (John Hensley), a boy who thinks he’d lose his virginity if only Dad would circumcise him. Y’know something? I take it back: ”Ick” does not do this show justice.
”Nip/Tuck” (and let’s pause here for a sec: Had FX put a slash in its own name, it would have been sorta clever – marketing itself as the ”special effects” network – but splitting up the common phrase ”nip and tuck” makes no sense) has a lot o’ ”kooky,” ”shocking” stuff for the sake of being ”kooky” and ”shocking.” Since the series is from Ryan Murphy, who created cuddlier kooks in his last show, The WB’s teen dramedy ”Popular,” this isn’t surprising. But somewhere between Murphy’s ambitiousness and FX’s desire to be basic cable’s HBO, the cleverness got suctioned out of this show, and the result is a cross between ”General Hospital” and ”Extreme Makeover.” In the second episode, the can’t-keep-it-zipped bachelor doctor, Christian Troy (Julian McMahon), beds twin high school grads, blithely calling it a ”Doublemint moment,” and then ”Nip/Tuck” asks us to believe he has sincere romantic yearnings for Dr. Sean’s wife, Julia. Christian’s idea of kindliness is to diagnose Matt’s circumcision hang-up as a lack of confidence with chicks and take the kid to a strip club for a lap dance.
As a creep with a scalpel, McMahon (most recently seen as a creep with demonic powers on ”Charmed”) thoroughly upstages Dylan Walsh, a duller knife: He’s the solid, likable-if-colorless actor whom you’ll fail to remember from Clint Eastwood’s ”Blood Work” and Mel Gibson’s ”We Were Soldiers.” McMahon’s Christian gets all the sex and violence. (In the premiere’s maybe-unintended theft from the recent miniseries ”Kingpin,” McMahon’s character is bribed to alter the appearance of a Colombian drug dealer; here, the subplot climaxes with the use of Botox as revenge injection on this show’s uncredited recurring character: the penis.) But I enjoy the way Joely Richardson, in a thus-far smaller role, manages to convey a full range of wronged-wife numbness, belligerence, and bitterness. And the most novel aspect of ”Nip/Tuck” is that both of the McNamaras’ kids – in addition to Matt, there’s a young daughter, Annie, played by imp-cute Kelsey Lynn Batelaan, a name that’s longer than she is – are nice young people, loved by their parents even when the adults are stressed and distracted.
Plastic surgery itself is wielded as a weapon in ”Nip/Tuck” – after just two episodes, the preponderance of self-hating female patients pushes the series into serious misogyny. The glee Christian takes in Magic Markering a female patient, showing her the areas of her body she could transform to his view of perfection with a bit of slicing and stuffing, extends to the lewd gaze of the camera on her body. On some level, we’re being made to consider that Christian may be right – that this woman’s ego needs puncturing and then reinflating, all at the hands of this basically contemptible man. (The joke misogyny appears briefly in the premiere’s opening operating-room moments, when Sean notices Christian has inserted derriere implants upside down and the latter snickers, ”You’ve saved my ass again.”) Someone needs to save this show from its arrogant nastiness and turn it into the good, bawdy soap opera it could be. And I am not encouraged by reading that an upcoming story line concerns an ”aging porn star”: The cheap jokes to be made at her expense are probably irresistible, all in the name of ”cutting-edge” TV.
I modify the command frequently issued to the doctors on this show and beseech the network: FiX it/please.