I have a fantasy Nip/Tuck episode. You know the Carver, that serial slasher who was abruptly sidelined this season and then splashily, disruptively brought back to carry on not being scary? Okay, the Carver slashes every character on Nip/Tuck. They gather in the medical offices of McNamara/Troy with their mouths aflap, Black Dahlia-style, and the standard Nip/Tuck query is posed: Tell me what you don’t like about yourself. The unison reply: I’m trapped on this unbelievable show that’s become so overly colorful it’s like a munchkin’s LSD fever dream, tie-dyed. Then they attach bird scrotums to a patient with UAE (Unremittent Avian Envy), navel-gaze about their morality, and feed themselves to spider monkeys.
Too much? In Nip/Tuck’s third season, there’s no such thing. Once upon a time, creator Ryan Murphy forged a bold, weird world perfectly suited to Upgraded America: Botox as weapon? Sure. Botox as weapon shot into genitalia? Indeed! Nip/Tuck earned its excess, however, because it held true to its center: the love-hate-admire-revile triangle between self-aware plastic surgeon Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh), his morals-free partner, Christian Troy (Julian McMahon), and Sean’s delicate, estranged wife, Julia (Joely Richardson). This season, mayhem rules. That may be because Murphy has so far written only one episode whilst he focuses on his film debut, an adaptation of Augusten Burroughs’ memoir Running With Scissors. But the effect is a wild disregard for the audience — it’s as if he left instructions for the writers to type scripts with only nine fingers, so they can keep one available to flip us the bird.
Almost every creative choice has been poorly reasoned. Now-ex-wife Julia attacks and embraces Sean with such volatility that she seems quite mad, rather than simply conflicted. Packing Sean off, with yet another midlife crisis, to serve (ludicrously) as a surgeon in the Witness Protection Program broke up the sparkiest part of Nip/Tuck, the push-pull of Julian and Sean’s friendship. Plus it saddled us with Anne Heche, who apparently based her New Jersey Mob widow performance on Billy Crystal’s impression of Sammy Davis Jr. Leaving Christian to man the shop with a partner even more scoundrelly than he, tango-loving, rapacious Quentin Costa (Bruno Campos), should have been a soapy jackpot. Instead, Christian swiped a conscience and started moralizing as much as Sean used to. Rather than shaking things up, the show became mired in the old yin-yang dynamic, minus the chemistry.
The Nov. 22 episode offered the season’s sole uptick, because of the slippery reveal that the new girlfriend of troubled teen Matt McNamara (John Hensley) is a white supremacist. All season, Matt has been walking into rooms, making absurd, Vesuvian outbursts, and leaving, having provided the scene’s exclamation point. If these nonsensical tantrums can finally be justified by a sly, challenging story, what might be done with that sperm cream Julia’s secretly peddling at her swank new spa, or the frame-up of Julian for the Carver’s killing, or any of the 14,000 other story lines that have languished? I will wait a few more episodes before I release the spider monkeys, but right now I’m grooming them for a series finale.