The End of Surgery
by ELEANOR MORROW
Dallas and Dynasty had their moments. They can't touch the greatest soap opera ever to air on television, Ryan Murphy's Nip/Tuck, which finishes up its run over the next few weeks. Dismissed as trash TV by people who eagerly descend to the painful depths of Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice for a living, Nip/Tuck was once the most popular show on cable. Its final season has been largely buried in the wake of Murphy's more popular Fox show Glee, but that shouldn't change what Nip/Tuck did for cable television.
Although soaps pride themselves on being long-running, the genre never had characters like doctors Christian Troy and Sean McNamara. Over time, two hunky Miami plastic surgeons have turned into two chipped and degraded Greek statues living in Los Angeles. There is something marvelous about how much Murphy cares about both bodies. McNamara's nude form tried to take his own life in the ocean a few episodes ago, and Troy's battle with cancer last season reduced his to a black-and-blue stump.
When the show premiered, there was something new and different in this approach, and even after the hype from Nip/Tuck's edgy plastic surgeries faded, the focus on the human form remained rare in any media. Television prefers to ignore or paint over human bodies, and even when it dips toes into nudity, rarely is the disrobed character not having sex.
In real life, we are as often nude by ourselves as we are with others. We are confronted with the fact of our bodies at every moment, and there's no surprise that with a surfeit of attention on them, obsessions ferment and fester. People who consider plastic surgery have taken that attention and elevated it to a need. Few McNamara/Troy patients actually can justify their desire for plastic surgery. That this is also the requirement of the people who perform these surgeries is the novelty of Nip/Tuck.
Over the years, Murphy has written every possible storyline for his doctors. The most successful one in the show's history had them pursued by a serial killer named The Carver. Since it's hard to make two rich plastic surgeons overly sympathetic, a twisted killer was the ideal foil. Murphy revisited this angle in a different way last season with Sean's Hollywood ascendancy (with an amazing run by Bradley Cooper as a jealous co-star), with his insane, murderous agent Colleen Rose.
Like any good soap opera, Nip/Tuck has nothing better to do than to flesh out the long stories of its more sympathetic peripheral characters. After being traded for a Lamborghini in the show's first season, blond tart Kimber Henry has basically done everyone on Nip/Tuck, and somehow she is still sympathetic. Following a person, real or imagined, for long enough generally accomplishes this trick. Every con artist knows that as soon as we see someone troubled do a good thing, we are won to their side of the issue. How do you think Chris Brown got booked on Good Morning America?
Murphy cast Mario Lopez as Christian's rival this season. One thing soaps do well is introduce new characters and repurpose old ones. If you really thought about it long enough it wouldn't make sense for Lopez and Christian to fight over Kimber, but since we've been with the latter pair longer, we want them to win out even though Christian is ostensibly the Iago of this interplay. This kind of complicated understanding between drama and audience is only possible in long form television.
With an idea of keeping the stakes high and sticking with Sean McNamara's utter inability to treat women as well as he says he wants to, Murphy cast Rose McGowan in a four episode-arc as a killer nurse after Sean's money. Although this is now the fifth or sixth time this basic plot has been featured, it is impossible to enjoy it any less. This campy fun turned into a custody battle with Sean's mother-in-law, played by Vanessa Redgrave. Nip/Tuck doesn't deserve to be bashed by the actors who walk through it.
Dramas, especially soaps, tend to replicate what's currently working. This typically happens even if the gimmick in question isn't effective anymore. In contrast to the hammy meaninglessness of Shonda Rimes and her Desperate Housewives counterparts, Ryan Murphy accomplished the feat of making a silly show serious. To make these people believable took an incredible sense for where our disbelief meets trust in the artist.
Eventually someone will realize how brilliant Nip/Tuck was and make something in its image. Let's hope the irony of such a tribute isn't lost on the creator.
Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She tumbls here.
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