When I knew I'd be reviewing the Season 2 DVD set of the widely acclaimed Nip/Tuck series, I knew what I had to do:
Rent the whole of Season 1 and watch those discs first.
It just seemed wrong to jump into such a well-regarded show in its second season without examining the first season's foundations, premises, themes, and (most important) the characters.
So there I was with a whole bunch of Netflix discs, happily whizzing my way through Nip/Tuck's first season -- and the damn thing practically hypnotized me. These crazy, colorful, brilliantly written, cockeyed adventures of two well-intentioned (yet hopelessly flawed) plastic surgeons in Southern Florida had me from Episode Numero Uno, hook, line, and sinker.
At risk of sounding overtly hyperbolic: Nip/Tuck is a vibrantly entertaining and decidedly grown-up series. It's smart and witty and profane and brutal and honest and insightful; it's packed with a phenomenal ensemble of characters that populates a fascinating backdrop indeed. It's a series about surface beauty, inner decay, the amazing healing powers we humans have, and it's almost sinfully, slickly funny.
The setting is the tony reconstruction zone known as McNamara/Troy. This is where people go when they need faces fixed, tummies tucked, boobies ballooned, and egos exhumed. The home base of doctors Sean McNamara and Christian Troy, this is where you'll find all sorts of routinely painful construction underway ... and not all of it is physical in nature.
Both pushing 40, Sean and Christian are old-time pals, which means they've been through a lot together -- and also that they'll continue to infuriate and support each other in equal measure. Sean's got a rocky marriage with the confused-yet-devoted Julia, and together they have two kids: seventeen-year-old Matt and eight-year-old Annie.
Christian, on the other hand, is a bona-fide ladies' man extraordinaire, a guy who beds the buxom beauties with alarming frequency, but is probably missing out on what's truly important in life. Perhaps this explains why Christian adores Sean's wife and kids so darn much ... plus there's some unspoken history between Christian and Julia, and you just know it's all going to boil over before too long.
The first superlative season of Nip/Tuck (which can be found on the fantastic upstart network known as F/X) laid the foundation for series creator Ryan Murphy's uniquely off-kilter look at beauty, loyalty, self-esteem, and friendship. I'd go as far to call it one of the best seasons of television I've seen in quite a long time.
Fresh off a "buzzworthy" first season and chomping at the bit to toss his characters into a whole new bunch of blenders, Murphy and his team have upped the ante quite a bit for season number two -- and if the results aren't quite as impressive as the first go-round, well, let's just say if S1 was an A+ effort, then season two is a solid B+.
A bit more acidic and reality-stretching than the first season was, collection two takes these characters into some rather outlandish settings. Young Matt strikes up a fairly creepy love affair with a "life coach" played by the painfully sexy Famke Janssen; tensions arise between Sean and Christian and several ancient secrets are revealed; and the non-stop carousel of bizarre patients continues unabated. As you watch season two unfold, you have a few good ideas as to where the drama is headed - but Murphy's crew is crafty enough to keep a few curve-balls tucked into their back pocket.
You'd expect a series about two relatively young, handsome, and successful plastic surgeons to be not much more than a superficial celebration of finger-wagging and easy jokes -- but I guess that's why Nip/Tuck has been praised by just about anyone who's been willing to watch more than two or three episodes; this is a wonderfully written and consistently surprising semi-soap opera, one that manages to deliver deep, dark laughs and oddly heartfelt emotion at the exact same time. It's loaded with characters that you'll grow to love, not even remotely because they're charming and perfect, but because they're deeply flawed and fragile people. And just like beauty is only skin deep, Nip/Tuck is pretty dazzling on the surface level, but once you dig a little deeper, the hidden treasures are even more rewarding.
I could spend another three paragraphs describing the flawless chemistry between Dylan Walsh and Julian McMahon or the excellent work by the sadly underrated Joely Richardson; the unpredictable recurring characters like surgery-addict Mrs. Grubman, unbalanced porn star Kimber Henry, goofball competitor Dr. Bobolit, recovering sex addict Gina Russo, or Liz, the exasperated lesbian anesthesiologist ... but I'd be spoiling a lot of the surprises.
(But I'd be remiss by not mentioning the phenomenal supporting work by actresses like Jessalyn Gilsig, Roma Maffia, Kelly Carlson, and Ruth Williamson. Walsh and McMahon are clearly the captains here, but without the support of these actresses, they'd be navigating a woefully understaffed vessel.)
Suffice to say that I'll have my eyes peeled for Season 3, once I can watch this excellent series the way that quality television should be enjoyed: on DVD. Do yourself a favor and check out a few discs of Season 1. Odds are you'll be scanning the aisles for Season 2 within a few weeks.
Disc inventories follow, with synopses courtesy of the included booklet. Also take note of the episodes marked with *asterisks, because they're the ones that offer some rather excellent deleted scenes along the way.
Episode 1: Erica Naughton -- Sean faces the big 4-0 and realizes time's clock can't always be turned back. Meanwhile, Christian tries to balance his swinger's lifestyle with fatherhood. Also: Sean's mother-in-law wants a facelift. (Original airdate: 6/22/04)
Episode 2: Christian Troy -- Don't touch that scalpel! Sean's ongoing hand spasms cause Christian to seek help from another plastic surgeon after a boudoir mishap breaks Christian's nose. The cops have a few questions for Matt. (6/29/04)
Episode 3: Manya Mabika -- The doctors do experimental surgery on a victim of genital mutilation - and Christian agrees to help her discover if the operation was a success. Julia advises her mother to get out of her life. (7/6/04)*
Episode 4: Mrs. Grubman -- She's had 10 procedures in six months and now Mrs. Grubman is back for more. But this time the grande damme of South Beach doesn't get the results she wanted. Meanwhile, 8-year-old Annie enters early puberty. (7/13/04)
Episode 5: Joel Gideon -- A traffic accident and a patient who tried to conquer Everest inspire Sean to take risks. Christian and Gina vie with the Sutherlands for custody of Gina and Mr. Sutherland's child. And Julia reveals a secret about Matt's parentage. (7/20/04)*
Episode 6: Bobbi Broderick -- Life coach Ava has a new client and a new lover: Matt. A patient angry over her liposuction aftermath stalks Sean. Hoping to conceive a child, Liz finds a sperm donor: Christian. (7/27/04)*
Episode 7: Naomi Gaines -- Media manipulation is a game anyone can play: The doctors head off Bobbi's attempts to discredit them by inviting the media to observe a pro bono operation on a victim of the serial rapist called The Carver. The Matt/Ava affair hits a wall named Julia. (8/3/04)*
Episode 8: Agatha Ripp -- Is she a testament to faith or a fraud? The doctors treat a woman whose recurring wounds are believed by some to be the stigmata of Christ. Sean finally learns the secret that could forever change his world. (8/10/04)*
Episode 9: Rose and Raven Rosenberg -- McNamara/Troy is over, done, finished - right? Then a pro bono surgery to separate adult conjoined twins - and events surrounding the procedure - convinces the doctors of their symbiotic need for each other. (8/17/04)
Episode 10: Kimber Henry -- An ultrarealistic doll will advance her porno career, so Kimber asks that a mold be made of her private parts. A writer requests breast implants as part of his research for a book on cancer and mastectomy. (8/24/04)*
Episode 11: Natasha Charles -- After seeing Sean with curvaceous Kimber, Julia undergoes breast augmentation. Meanwhile, Christian is drawn to bright, confident, blind businesswoman Natasha Charles, who seeks cosmetic eye implants. (8/31/04)*
Episode 12: Julia McNamara -- It's a wonderful life ... or is it? While under anesthesia for repair of her badly cut face, Julia glimpses what life may have been like if she had married Christian instead of Sean. (9/7/04)
Episode 13: Oona Wentworth -- His new invention will change the face of plastic surgery - provided you don't mind a damaged face. Christian intervenes in the backroom surgeries of Merrill Bobolit. Sean sets new boundaries for Matt. (9/14/04)
Episode 14: Trudy Nye -- It's open season on relationships: Sean catches Kimber in flagrante, Christian dumps Natasha, the McNamaras try to douse the Matt-Ava flame, and a patient wants her nose redone ... right before her reunion with the freed child killer who broke it years earlier. (9/21/04)*
Episode 15: Sean McNamara -- Operate at your own peril. Sean's work with victims of The Carver results in a terrifying encounter with the masked menace ... and a dire threat. Gina's news that she has HIV puts Christian's world in a tailspin. (9/28/04)*
Episode 16: Joan Rivers -- Ava has a secret - one the doctors scramble to hide from Matt. Sean continues a course of action that may smoke out The Carver. A computer simulation shows Joan Rivers what might have been. (10/5/04)*
Special Feature: Recurring Pain -- Three Women and Their Man - This is an 8-minute featurette about the three main women in the life of Dr. Christian Troy. Ruth ("Mrs. Grubman") Williamson, Jessalyn ("Gina") Gilsig, Kelly ("Kimber") Carlson, and executive producer Greer Shephard share their thoughts and ideas about these recurring characters, and the impact they left on the season.
Video: The episodes are presented in a Widescreen Anamorphic format, which is great, but why am I noticing so much grain, fleckage, and general fuzziness all over the place? Don't get me wrong; the episodes look more than fine enough to enjoy, but the picture quality, I must say, leaves a little something to be desired. A series this slickly directed surely deserves a little better.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, which sounded just fine to these ears. Nothing to melt your speakers with, but the volume levels are fine; dialogue and music are delivered quite clearly.
Extras: Aside from the aforementioned deleted scenes and the Disc 6 featurette, you'll get a handy little foldout booklet that's filled with episode information and some cast photos. I wouldn't have minded a few audio commentaries sprinkled across the set, but the show's what really matters.
After 10, 12, 16 people tell you how great a certain TV show is, you go in pretty much expecting to enjoy the thing. But Nip/Tuck exceeded even those expectations with admirable skill and tenacity. I still say Season 1's a little bit better, but by this point I'm so invested in the tone, the approach, the humor, and the characters ... it would take a lot to knock me off the bandwagon now.
If you're looking for something that looks familiar on the surface, but has pools of unique weirdness and outright ballsiness hidden beneath the horizon, do yourself a favor and make an appointment with the Nip/Tuck doctors. They might not make you prettier, but they will give you something to think about.