Just about one year ago to the day, I spent a very entertaining weekend with the second season of Nip/Tuck, a document of which can be seen right here. I'm going to keep this review shorter than that one, mainly because I don't feel the need to regurgitate all the praise I lavished upon the series last year, but also because, well, the show's starting to flounder just a little bit.
Don't get me wrong; Nip/Tuck is still one of the craftiest, strangest, and most darkly alluring shows on television, but now in its third season -- the producers seem to be spinning their wheels just a little. The whole cast is back, and as strong as ever, and the writers have cooked up some really compelling plot twists, turns, and divergences, but there's three or four episodes in the middle of Nip/Tuck's third season that skirt dangerously close to shark-jumping territory.
Back for a third series of surgical misadventures are Doctors Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) and Christian Troy (Julian McMahon), two old friends who share no shortage of closeted skeletons and hidden secrets. The docs' third season deals with a wide variety of malformed, desperate, and/or egocentric patients, and on an episode-by-episode basis, Nip/Tuck still holds up as a devilishly appealing series (even if S3 dives off the deep end a handful of times) -- but when series creator Ryan Murphy focuses on his strongest assets (Christian and his porn star girlfriend, Sean and his estranged wife, and the colorful cast of recurring characters who keep popping by), that's when Nip/Tuck really shines.
By this point, Nip/Tuck has transformed into a fairly predictable formula. Beneath the surface we still have all the delicious surprises, unpredictable character behavior, and big buckets of witty dialogue. Frankly, when Nip/Tuck S3 sticks to its main characters and backbone plot threads, it's as entertaining as anything on TV. Unfortunately, a series cannot live exclusively on soap opera-style shenanigans, which means we're required to meet a whole lot of "patients of the week," some of which have some pretty fascinating stories to tell -- and some of which land on just the other side of seriously outlandish. Seasons 1 and 2 had some real shocks, jolts, and unexpected strangeness, but some of the stuff that goes down in Season 3 is pretty tough to swallow -- even for a pulpy R-rated soap opera like this one.
The "main arc" of this third season (which involves a ruthless killer called "The Carver") is so damn fascinating that eveything else (including the main characters' own problems) takes a back seat to the 'whodunnit' aspect. The arrival of a sexy British cop (Rhona Mitra) adds a lot of spice to the beginning of S3, but she vanishes for long stretches, and her absence is sorely evident. The MacNamara/Troy surgeons also have a new colleague in Dr. Quentin Costa, a character who's entirely fascinating ... up until he too is put through the Plot Twist Wringer one too many times. Series regulars Joely Richardson, Roma Maffia, and John Hensley do their typically fine work, despite the fact that their characters are also subjected to a few subplots that are often somewhat silly or downright absurd.
But hey, who says a night-time soap opera can't grow a little silly or absurd without still being a whole lot of fun? And while I definitely think that S3 suffers in comparison to the first two seasons, Nip/Tuck still stands up as a disarmingly smart, bravely dark, and almost addictively entertaining series. Its third season might not be as consistently excellent as its predecessors, but Nip/Tuck is still one of the most ballsy, exciting, and insightful pieces of television out there ... especially now that Six Feet Under has gone out of business.
Disc inventories are listed here, with plot synopses taken from the DVD case. (Although I gotta ask: Why do we need a 6-disc release -- when three of the discs contain only two episodes each??)
1. Momma Boone -- Big problems: Julia wants a divorce, Sean hires a new partner because of Christian's troubled recovery from the Carver's attack ... and a hugely obese woman whose skin is fused to her sofa needs urgent surgery.
2. Kiki -- If the doctors fix the scar on Kiki's face, maybe her lover will accept her. Kiki is a gorilla. A gang-banger wants his teardrop tattoos removed. Matt struggles to cope after learning about Ava's surgery.
3. Derek, Alex, and Gary -- These frat boys really stick together. The faces of two youths are glued to the buttocks of a third. Meanwhile, Matt's ongoing crisis puts him on edge... and the McNamara family at odds.
4. Rhea Reynolds -- A woman who hopes to rekindle the memory of her Alzheimer-afflicted husband wants facial surgery. Matt slaps a restraining order on Sean. A self-proclaimed victim of the Carver may have a hidden agenda.
5. Granville Trapp -- The Carver claims another victim. This time the police are quick to arrest a suspect in the bizarre string of attacks. The suspect's name: Christian Troy.
6. Frankenlaura -- Hitting bottom. Business plummets after Christian's arrest, so the surgeons take on jobs they'd rather not do. Among them: undoing the work of a mortuary tech who stitched together parts of deceased women to make his dream girl.
7. Ben White -- A man with Body Integrity Disorder wants his leg amputated. Sean seeks wholeness by becoming a Witness Protection Program surgeon. Julia's spa markets a face cream with an unusual active ingredient.
8. Tommy Bolton -- Family ties. Sean, unaware of the danger, takes in the Morrettis. Christian tries to reconnect with his mother. Julia is drawn to Quentin. A boy with Down Syndrome wants to look more like his family.
9. Hannah Tedesco -- A new face: A disfigured woman is a candidate for a risky facial transplant. A new life: Sean may go into hiding with protected witness Nicole. A new wife: Fiancee Kimber has an unusual prenup for Christian.
10. Madison Berg -- Wedding-bell blues: Christian and Kimber busily make the final preparations for their wedding - all the while beset by uncertainties and crises of confidence. Matt falls under the sway of skinheads.
11. Abby Mays -- Unflappable? Christian says he's not bothered that Kinber left him at the altar, but his actions say the opposite. Meanwhile, Sean is on edge because of Quentin's pursuit of Julia.
12. Sal Perri -- A passenger flight goes down and Sean, Julia and Christian are among the volunteers working with survivors at the triage center. Among the passengers reportedly on the flight: Julia's mother.
13. Joy Kringle -- 'Tis the season! Julia copes with an unplanned pregnancy. Mr. and Mrs. Kringle are at odds when the doctors discover she unknowingly carries a calcified fetus - the result of her secret, one-time dalliance of well over a decade ago.
14. Cherry Peck -- Healing: Matt forms a friendship with the pre-op he bludgeoned, and Kimber, mutilated by the Carver, is found and undergoes restorative procedures. Reeling: Kit presents shocking evidence that suggests Quentin isn't the Carver.
15. Quentin Costa -- You've wondered. Everyone's wondered. Now comes the answer: the identity of the Carver. But that revelation is just the tip of the iceberg ... and the danger. Meanwhile, Matt and Cherry also face a harrowing ordeal.
Video: The picture quality seems to be a solid improvement over the previous season. The anamorphic widescreen transfer shows off the austere look, stylish production design, and cinematic directorial apprpoach of the series.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 only. Just like the previous releases, the aural presentation is perfectly fine. Optional subtitles are available in French and Spanish.
Extras: Scattered through the six discs are a bunch of deleted scenes. You'll find them alongside episodes 1, 3, 6, and 13. On disc 6 you'll find a pair of featurettes:
The Perfect Look (10:34) focuses on the visual style of Nip/Tuck. Interview subjects include series creator Ryan Murphy, production designer Liz Kay, set decorator Ellen Brill, cinematographer Christopher Baffa, producer Michael M. Robin, and construction coordinator Joe Fama.
Chasing the Carver (9:27) centers on the juiciest of all Nip/Tuck's myriad plot and sub-plots: The mysterious motivations and identity of "The Carver." Stopping by to share some insights are Ryan Murphy, Michael M. Robin, producer Greer Shephard, and actors Bruno Campos, Joley Richardson, Dylan Walsh, Kelly Carlson, Roma Maffia, and Julian McMahon.
Last year I called Nip/Tuck S1 and "A+" and S2 a "B+" -- so I guess to follow that line, I'd award S3 with a "B-" grade. The mid-season weak spots are not nearly weak enough to ruin the whole ride, but for S4 I hope Mr. Murphy focuses more on his main characters and just a little less on the endless parade of "stunningly wild medical cases!" I get that it's tough to stay fresh and exciting after a few full seasons, but there's some stuff in Nip/Tuck S3 that's just a little too wacky for a program this damn smart.