''Slide this in?''
''Yes. Pull that out and put this in.''
''Now we're getting into the thick of it.''
Here on the L.A. set of ''Nip/Tuck,'' an exchange like this can only mean one of two things: intense sex scene or intense plastic-surgery scene. Although today's action sounds hot and heavy, as it turns out, the actors aren't getting any tail. Instead, they're cutting one off.
An infant-size doll with an appendage jutting from the base of its spine lies on the operating table while doctors Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) and Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) hunch over and delicately begin slicing. The blood-spotted tail is placed in a specimen tray, and a few crew members wince. Between takes, the actors examine the baby. Any other procedures they'd like to recommend for the tot?
''A little lipo,'' offers McMahon.
''The nose could use some work,'' adds Walsh. ''And the lips.''
''Some eyebrow implants,'' says McMahon as the deadpan consult becomes increasingly vivid -- and disturbing. ''We could definitely lift that butt cheek a bit. It's a little flabby on the left. The details are important.''
No need to notify the AMA: There won't be an extreme baby makeover today. But these docs plan to raise plenty of brows again this season. Tracking the symbiotic lives of two Miami plastic surgeons, FX's ''Nip/Tuck'' -- which returns with the first of 16 new episodes on June 22 -- beautified the cable net's fortunes with its outlandish cases (a child-molesting priest fools the docs into removing an incriminating mark on his scrotum), tangled home-life plots (is Christian the biological father of Sean's son?), and grisly operations (e.g., incorrectly inserted butt implants). The soapy surgery drama finished last season as 2003's No. 1 new basic-cable show, averaging 3.3 million viewers. ''Sometimes I watch network TV, and I just feel dead,'' says creator/exec producer Ryan Murphy. ''There's nothing to move me. Freak me out! I want people to feel something when they watch our show. There always has to be some blood on the walls -- literally and metaphorically.''
The origins of ''Nip/Tuck'' date back to the day Murphy was told he wasn't good enough. A freelance reporter in the mid-'90s (and former contributor to EW), he went undercover to research an article on calf implants during which a surgeon suggested that Murphy needed multiple procedures (an ear pinning here, a brow lift there). He was so disturbed by the consult -- and by the fact that he found himself considering the surgeries -- Murphy never wrote the story. Later, when his cult WB dramedy ''Popular,'' as well as a Delta Burke sitcom pilot, died prematurely, Murphy sank into a self-questioning funk. But the more he reflected on his surgeon-fueled identity crisis, the brighter a lightbulb shone. He scheduled a meeting with FX. ''I walked in and said, 'I want to do a show about transformation,''' recalls the 39-year-old writer. ''Everyone was thinking, 'Cop show, lawyer show?' and I said, 'Plastic surgeons. Here are two guys who transform people every day, yet are reluctant to do it with their own lives.' And they're like, 'Oh, I get it. Sold!'''