by pat howard

NIP/TUCK | ‘Tell me what you don’t like’ one last time

In FX on March 9, 2010 at 6:00 am

We come not to praise Nip/Tuck.

The thing with these timely, relevant, zeitgeisty shows is they have a shelf life. The collapse of our nation’s economy wasn’t subtle, and it was the death blow for a show premised on a superficial, debt-laden America. The move to LA by all rights should’ve toasted the show, and yet somehow that season was my favorite with its campy guest stars and Hollywood plotlines.

It was always hard to know what to do with Nip/Tuck, whose quasi-earnest first season propelled it into the pop culture stratosphere and encouraged its more ludicrous pursuits, hoping to skate by with sodden metaphors on universal qualms. Too little pleasure for so much guilt.

It can be lauded for its deft integration of music at a time when that was just becoming common practice. The surgery suite at McNamara/Troy was always booming a tune that fit the surgery-of-the-week, and rare silences in that operating room were resounding.

On the other hand, it was a series that delighted in abusing, undermining, and even ignoring its characters.

Joely Richardson’s robotic performance and grating voice made it easy to appreciate Julia’s long absences in the last few seasons, and her occasional appearances were generally related to her one skill: being a killjoy. That said, her mommy issue storylines with Vanessa Redgrave were always terrifically sudsy.

Manipulative vixen Kimber (Kelly Carlson) slept with pretty much every credited member of the cast, including both of Matt’s fathers…just because Nip/Tuck put FX in the original series game doesn’t mean it wasn’t the most gutter-skimming prime time soap in history.

Joss Whedon owes a concept credit for Dollhouse to John Hensley’s Matt McNamara, who despite changing personalities/occupations/lovers at the rate Murphy Brown changed secretaries still might endure as the series’ greatest character. From the beginning, Matt fell into a labyrinthine abyss of hilariously awful choices.  His path included:

  • a botched self-circumcision
  • a hit-and-run accident followed immediately by a cover-up scheme
  • falling for his secretly transsexual life coach
  • discovering his true paternity
  • attempting to chemically castrate his cellmate after becoming a prison bitch at the behest of his grandmother
  • bartering the death-row liposuction of an innocent man in exchange for his own release
  • flirting with neo-Nazism, Scientology, and castration
  • launching and aborting a porn career
  • falling for a girl who turned out to be his sister
  • a career trajectory of actor > mime > armed robber
  • and a crystal meth habit that escalated to my favorite scene of the series, in which Matt dives into a swimming pool after setting the meth lab in his hotel room on fire.

If it weren’t for Roma Maffia as anesthesiologist Liz Cruz, the dysfunctional dynamic between Sean (Dylan Walsh) and Christian (Julian McMahon) might not have been preserved for so long. Though prone to screaming rants, Liz was the straight man to Sean and Christian’s outlandish antics and often the lone voice of sanity in the series’ universe.

Sean’s mopey search for purpose was never as interesting as Christian’s after-market moral navigational system, which is why last week’s series finale didn’t sit right with me. I suppose the creative team was in a rush to move on to their latest critical darling Glee, but Nip/Tuck deserved both better and worse than its saccharine whimper of a happy ending. That flash-forward episode a few seasons back was a more authentic scenario, riddled though it was with continuity holes (oh wait, it was a dream).

I managed to make it through all 100 episodes without spinal fluid leaking out of my ear canal, because I formed the same attachment to Nip/Tuck as I did to Degrassi or the thankfully defunct 7th Heaven. I reached a point where I’d put so much time in that I wanted both to find out the ending and make sure the show was truly, most sincerely dead. It will go down as a memorable if often unwatchable footnote in the cable revolution. This isn’t grad school material on the level of The Wire. But it mostly remained true to its warped moral center until almost the end, and maybe we were never meant to feel good about watching it.

The absurdity will be preserved for future generations, as the entire series is now available in HD from iTunes.

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