[7 October 2009]
PopMatters Associate Interviews Editor
Thanks to the ‘70s (pop culture reference-filled) sitcom Happy Days, “jumping the shark” has become the term most used to describe a television program’s leap from its own well-loved formula into a world of anything-for-ratings absurdity. After watching Season five, Part Two of FX’s Nip/Tuck, however, it becomes clear that even more ridiculous verb-object phrases are available to represent the phenomena. “Chainsawing off the mammary”, for example, or “shagging the furniture”.
Season Five, Part Two, you see, offers plenty of bizarrely memorable moments to be burned into its watchers’ memories. But to be fair, Nip/Tuck is long past the point at which it can be accused of using crazy stunts to pull in the viewers and avoid stagnation. On the one hand, the show is long past the glory days of its critically-acclaimed second season and ratings behemoth third, but on the other, it has been throwing grotesque and shocking images onto the screen since its first episode, which kicked off a show about the daily-lives of Miami plastic surgeons by having its protagonists “flush the child’s gerbil” and “dump the gangster’s body in the Everglades.”
But this set of episodes is still pretty crazy. Season Five, Part Two begins in Los Angeles with the after-effects of Dr. Sean McNamara’s (Dylan Walsh) stabbing by his psychotic former PR agent. Luckily his best-friend and colleague Dr. Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) is able to help save him, although Sean is now wheel-chair bound thanks to his injuries. The pair soon get back to work however, which means the usual Nip/Tuck season’s compliment of strange patients and stranger women is not far behind.
The plastic surgery recipients range from a booty-deprived female-rapper to an orally-fixated yoga enthusiast in need of a penis-reduction. The women vary from a cigarette-smoking cancer sufferer to a college student who wants to dress one of the doctors up in a diaper and pacifier when she sleeps with him. There are all the usual hi-jinks Nip/Tuck fans have come to expect, from the silly Hollywood obsessions of actor Aidan Stone (guest star Bradley Cooper) to a seemingly distinguished plastic surgeon who has a sexual compulsion towards expensive couches.
Critics of the show have always charged that, like an old-time freak show, it merely cashes in on viewer’s desires to see weird, sometimes ugly examples of the human animal, while pretending to examine the darker aspects of human nature. But as Season Five, Part Two proves, that’s kind of unfair. Watch the episode about the young man whose body won’t stop growing massive tree-like growths that confine him to a bed, or even the one about a couple with a vampire-like addiction to sucking each other’s blood, and you’ll see how willing the show’s writers are to find beauty and depth in unexpected places, and to treat the odder members of our human society with a sensitivity often lacking in the medical docu-dramas that dominate basic cable networks these days.
Another thing the show has going for it is the characters that fans have come to know and love. Like every season before it, Season Five, Part Two brings changes to the personalities and lives of it’s central cast. Sean’s ex-wife Julia, for example, has gone through a lot during the two parts of Season Five. She’s fallen in love with another woman; she’s finally given an actual relationship with longtime love interest Christian a go, and then has had her entire life reset by a gunshot-induced bought of amnesia. She’s a character who has spent much of the previous seasons lamenting her own neuroses while judging Sean for his, so its gratifying to see her actually try new things and then accept the consequences. Things certainly get rough for her, but she’s never seemed so in control of her own life before.
Her son Matt (raised by Sean, fathered by Christian) has a harder time of it. The guy for whom three-ways with professed lesbians and hookups with porn stars were common occurrences in high school, has become sort of pathetic and helpless this season - led into meth-addiction and dumped by the plague of all Nip/Tuck men, Kimber Henry; dumped again by a physically-deformed Israeli burn patient; and eventually foiled-in-love once more when another blossoming relationship turns out to be with his long-lost half-sister. He’s also saddled with a child he can’t support, and is losing the respect of Sean, which he tries to regain by pursuing a career in medicine. Unfortunately, Matt is even less talented at surgery than he is at holding onto a woman.
These experiences are pretty major, especially when compared to the baby-steps taken by Sean and Christian. Both men are still mired in the mid-life crises that began in season one, and Season Five, Part Two brings them no closer to resolution. Christian does experience one large life change, when he develops potentially lethal breast cancer. The physical scars and ongoing sickness the disease and its treatment saddle him with deal harsh blows to his previously untouchable confidence and libido.
Dealing with the disease leads Christian to some interesting women, like the self-mutilating cancer patient mentioned earlier, and his attempts to cope with his own mortality takes him down some weird streets, like his interest in freezing himself after death to enable future resuscitation. But at the end of the day, he’s still Christian Troy—in love with money, fame, women (plural) and new experiences, generally incapable of acting selflessly, but totally dedicated to his closest friends and family. Cancer brings a new perspective to his life, but not one that changes very much who he is as a person.
Once he recovers from his stabbing, Sean’s life is less eventful than Christian’s, although he is taking small but regular steps away from the uptight family man he used to be. Picking up women, for example, seems to come easier to him than it used to, although his romances are still generally doomed. He attempts to win back Julia by lying about their divorce after she loses her memory, but is rumbled as soon as everyone else she knows reminds her that she left him a long time before. He then starts a relationship with the practice’s new anaesthesiologist, (played by Katee Sackhoff), a wild-child who encourages Sean to try some new things, like motorcycle riding and hallucinogenic drugs.
Unfortunately for Sean, his new beau has a secret life that bodes poorly for their burgeoning hookup. He still doesn’t have Christian’s knack for heedless diving into strange situations and coming out unscathed, and it seems unlikely that he ever will.
It’s hard to say where the show will go from here. The writers burned a lot of bridges this season, whether through their heroe’s move to Los Angeles (something show creator Ryan Murphy swore they would never do), or Christian’s liaison with a major supporting character. Season six is coming however, and the Season Five, Part Two finale definitely leaves some loose ends to be tied up, although the resolution to this part of the season’s central narrative arc may be more of a cop-out than the finale of Battlestar Galactica.
Still, Nip Tuck: Season Five, Part Two is a DVD package worth owning for loyal fans of the show. If you’ve never found yourself interested in this wacky but complicated show about plastic surgeons with plenty of baggage, this season probably isn’t going to change that. On the other hand, if you’re a viewer who has stuck with the series through all the seasons up to this point, this installment has all the stuff you’ve come to expect from one of FX’s earliest hits.
This DVD edition doesn’t offer much in the way of additional thrills - the only real extra is a documentary about the definition of beauty, which comes off as vague as that synopsis sounds - but the episodes themselves are full of the crazy moments and fascinating characters that have kept Nip/Tuck on the air all this time.