Tuesday, October 13, 2009

All style, no substance: Reviewing the new season of "Nip/Tuck"

When I first started watching the FX plastic surgery soap "Nip/Tuck," I didn't love it, but I did kind of admire it. It was so unapologetic in its tawdriness; so bold and crazy. I didn't totally warm to its tale of two morally bereft plastic surgeons, Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) and Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh), but it was slick, well-made and decently acted. Over time, the characters and the story did grow on me, and "Nip/Tuck" became my guilty pleasure of choice. Yes, the parallels between the medical stories and the personal ones were often clumsy, but the show -- at least for its first two seasons -- knew how to go cheerfully over the top (remember that Famke Janssen-transsexual storyline?), and keep its emotional resonance (the very real rift between Sean and Christian when Sean learns Christian is the real father of Sean's teen son). Plus the stylized plastic surgery scenes -- always set to music that reflected the case at hand -- were great fun to watch.
But then, in the third season, it went too far over the top, with its insane story of a serial mutilator called "The Carver." That story and its anti-climactic denouement made the show feel like a trick, like something that would dazzle and disgust us but provide no real payoff. The show never really recovered. Yes, there have been bright spots, including last season's arc about Christian's breast cancer. But, overall, it's just not that much fun anymore.
Wednesday at 10 p.m., the show begins the first half of its final season and, well, the first two episodes are more of the same. Rose McGowan bizarrely replaces Katee Sackoff as Sean's love interest, Dr. Rowe, and the plastic surgery business is suffering in this down economy, but, other than that, things are sort of status quo. After their relationship and marriage last year, Christian and anesthesiologist Liz Cruz (Roma Maffia) are back to hating each other (divorce will do that). Sean is back to engaging in his lifelong mid-life crisis. And Sean and Christian's son Matt (John Hensley) is back to making random inappropriate life choices (this season, he's chosen to combine armed robbery with the art of mime. It isn't as good as it sounds).
On the upside, Mario Lopez's abs are now featured cast members, so the thing isn't a total loss.
Still, even Lopez's chiseled mid-section isn't enough to bring the show back to its bright, trashy self. That's too bad, because I do enjoy the performances of many of the actors, particularly Walsh and McMahon who give their characters' bromance just the right mix of affection and tension. They snipe and backstab each other, but ultimately care for and take care of one another. It's a believable relationship and has always been the cornerstone of the show. The problem is, I'm just not that interested in the elements surrounding the relationship any more.
I do hope to stick out the show until the end of its run, but I'm not sure I'll take any pleasure in it. Not even the guilty sort.

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