Say what you will about the state of TV today, but there is no doubt that F/X has had some of the best original programs in years. Rescue Me, Damages, and It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and The Shield are just some of the fantastic offerings that elevate the channel beyond its basic cable brethren. Nip/Tuck was one of F/X's first offspring, and it hit viewers like few shows ever had. The first season of Nip/Tuck was practically perfect. It perfectly combined drama, humor, character development and shockingly taboo subjects, all wrapped up in a shiny plastic veneer like the kind doctors Christian Troy and Sean McNamara have given so many of their patients.
Alas, such stunning consistency was not to last. The second season was already tipping off balance, going from character drama to melodrama. And the third season, with its absurd and pointless Carver storyline, went from melodrama to soap opera. In fact, season three was so bad that it turned off many of the show's fans, setting the stakes high for season four. If Ryan Murphy and company couldn't get Nip/Tuck back on track, it might have meant the end.
Luckily, it seems everyone involved realized how far off track they had gone, and season four has a renewed sense of focus. Of course, being Nip/Tuck, that doesn't mean the show has stopped indulging in the outlandishly complex stories that are its stock in trade. But as we open this set, things seem to be going fairly well. Sean (Dylan Walsh) is back together with his wife Julia (Joely Richardson) after being separated. He and Christian (Julian McMahon) are doing well with their plastic surgery practice, attracting higher and higher profile clients. However, in the world of Nip/Tuck, no one stays happy for very long. Liz (Roma Maffia), the practice's anesthesiologist, has an urban legend performed on her when she goes him with a girl from a bar and wakes up with her kidney removed. Julia discovers that the baby she's carrying is going to have a genetic deformity. And Christian convinces Sean to sell a portion of the practice to Burt Laundau (Larry Hagman), a millionaire industrialist with a hot wife (Sanaa Lathan). Given Christian's predisposition to unavailable women, you can guess how that one turns out.
Yes, it's back to business for the show, in several areas. The relationship between Sean and Christian is at the forefront of the season, and it's contrasted against Sean and Christian's other human interactions. Not surprisingly, they come up wanting. Sean finds a wedge between him and Julia in the form of Marlo (the wonderful Peter Dinklage), who has more compassion for Sean's handicapped baby than Sean himself does. Christian seduces Michelle, Burt's wife, and practically blackmails her into sleeping with him. To further complicate things, a dark figure from Michelle's past, James (Jacqueline Bisset), reappears and starts demanding money and favors.
What's amazing is that even with all of this and more, this season still feels like the strongest since the first. The more outrageous elements are generally played for laughs, providing a much-needed counterpoint from the heavy drama of the main storylines. It also helps that the writers seem to have a sense of where they're going, and where they've been before. The cast give 110% in their performances, and this season has some of the most impressive Julian McMahon scenes in the entire series. Furthermore, guest appearances by actors such as the aforementioned Mr. Dinklage, Rosie O'Donnell, and Catherine Deneuve enhance the impact instead of lessening it.
That being said, season four still does not reach the heights of the first time out. The James/organ hijacking storyline feels a little too close to the Carver for comfort, for one thing. I can't count how many times someone got blackmailed over the course of 15 episodes. Also, the gimmick of having a live character see and converse with an imaginary character during times of stress was terribly overused. Usually Sean spoke with an imaginary Escobar, but here he sees four or five people. Christian sees every girl he ever dated. Even Kimber thinks she catches a glimpse of Xenu. It used to be effective, now it's just old.
Regardless, Nip/Tuck's fourth season is exactly what the show needed. The writers have managed to correct the creative freefall they found themselves in and put things back on the right course. Hopefully next season (premiering in the next few months) will find everyone in an even better place than they get to here.
The HD DVD:
Warner Bros. presents Nip/Tuck season 4 in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in a 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer. Seeing as how F/X has some of the worst broadcast quality of any television station, even a piss-poor transfer of Nip/Tuck is going to look good. Luckily, what we get is pretty darn decent. The first few episodes are uneven. I recall one particular shot where it looks like the image was digitally zoomed in and all the quality went out the window. However, I only noticed it once. From the second disc onwards, things pick up considerably. Fleshtones are accurate and the colors are very well rendered. Detail is good, but not the best I've ever seen. There is a good amount of grain, but it's uniform throughout the show which leads me to believe it's intentional. This is a very big step up from the broadcasts and I was quite happy with it.
Warner offers up a Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix and a 2.0 mix for the surround-impaired. While a good majority of Nip/Tuck centers on dialogue, every time Sean and Christian do a surgery, they play music, and that's where the soundstage comes alive. All the dialogue is crisp, clear, and well balanced. The pop music is lively and spread well across the channels. The ambient effects were well placed and the entire mix feels very organic. This is one of the better mixes I've heard lately.
For such a popular show, there aren't very many special features on the set, and what we do get is meager and insubstantial.
- Deleted Scenes: The only HD (1080i) extra on the disc is these sets of deleted scenes, scattered amongst the episodes from which they were cut. As far as deleted scenes go, they're not bad, with plenty of good material. Unfortunately, there aren't all that many, and the total runtime is short.
- Clever Casting - The Season's Guest Stars: A quick overview of the various guest actors who popped up this season. Most of the comments veer toward the "Oh, we absolutely had to get so-and-so" and there's not much said about any one person.
- Sizzle - The Sexuality of Nip/Tuck: Probably the most interesting of the featurettes, this one goes a little outside the normal cast and crew interviews to include sex experts. They are, of course, looking at all the steamy content on display, and some interesting comments are made, but it's over before it really gets a chance to heat up.
- The Cutting Edge - How Real Life Dramas Are Incorporated Into The Show: This is a quick and dirty look at real-life surgeries that inspired many of those found in the show.
- Gag Reel: And a really bad one, too.
Nip/Tuck season 4 gave the show a much-needed reprise from the excesses of the two previous seasons. This time around, we see the show's creators with their feet on the ground and their eyes on the prize. It's not perfect, but it's a step in the right direction that the show desperately needed. I was quite happy with both the picture and the sound on this HD DVD, but the extras are brief and insubstantial. Still, for fans, this is worth picking up. Recommended.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.