Nip/Tuck - "Don Hoberman"

Nip/Tuck starts out so promisingly and then wanders so far afield that you wonder why you bothered with it in the first place. While that’s a rough summary of the series so far, it could also describe just about any given season, any given story arc or any given episode. It’s a show that had so many great ideas, so many great themes and so many great moments of potential and squandered almost all of them in favor of crazy bullshit, as if it wants to see what it can get its audience to buy. Nip/Tuck was a hugely important show both in the history of its network and cable in general, but it seems like it always squanders whatever promise it had or has. Now, entering its sixth and final season (which will be split into two parts, meaning we likely won’t see the series finale until 2017 or something), the series is seemingly trying to refocus itself on what made it so compelling at the start – two maladjusted plastic surgeons and the idea that everyone has something they don’t like about themselves.

The season begins with the Drs. McNamara and Troy still ensconced in Los Angeles, still trying to deal with their increasingly widespread friends and family and still coping with the fact that Christian’s seemingly life-ending cancer actually turned out to be in remission, just after he’d somewhat improbably (two words that would describe most everything on this show) married Liz. Sean, who was dating Katee Sackhoff last season, is now dating Rose McGowan, and though she claims to be the same person, we all know that not even a dozen Rose McGowans are worth one Katee Sackhoff. We’re not fooled, Nip/Tuck! Both Kimber and Matt are embarking on the latest reinventions, and Julia has removed herself from the premises yet again. (Joely Richardson, who was the best thing about the show in its best seasons, removing herself from the show on a consistent basis has been one of the biggest drags on it being anything approaching a consistent entertainment in the series’ last few seasons.) In some ways, everything’s back to the status quo, reasonable for a soap, where returning to the status quo is needed.

But the world around Nip/Tuck has collapsed since the show completed production of its fifth season. The economy has headed into the toilet, the super rich are feeling the strain, and everyone has less money for luxuries as basic as cable, to say nothing of expensive plastic surgery. This makes the opening of the episode appropriately apocalyptic, Linda Hunt’s voiceover underscoring just how far we’ve fallen and how little we’ve progressed as she lays out the rough story of McNamara/Troy and the collapse of America’s heady days of fake money and fake bodies. Hunt’s voice and the vaguely sinister shots of the Los Angeles skyline make this all feel like it’s going to end up much more tragically than it actually will, but the series is quickly heading back to the wells it always heads to.

When Nip/Tuck began, it seemed like it would be a frank character study of two men who were constantly chasing what the other had and of a society that was focused on youth and beauty at all costs. It filtered all of this through the trappings of the primetime soap, where crazy plot twists are the order of the day and yet everything returns at some point to a sort of normalcy. Nip/Tuck was able to keep up this balancing act for a season and a half, but roughly around when Julia found out that Matt was actually Christian’s baby, the balancing act fell apart. Everyone started having awful things happen to them for no real reason, the show began endlessly repeating itself, and the plot twists all became so needlessly surprising that they ceased to be surprising at all. The Carver storyline – one of the most obvious shark jumps by a popular series in the last decade – sent everything away but the crazy soap plotting but in such an obvious way that even the show’s most diehard fans noticed. The series tried to refocus on its characters after that, but it never managed to focus back on the people at the center of the story, and the cast scattered to the winds, often not having a good reason for their characters to stay in the story.

Season six opens, then, with a sense that we’re finally going to get a sense of how much time has passed for these people, of how the years and the crazy plot twists have worn on them and made them very different from who they were. Both Sean and Christian are facing monetary issues, as Sean is trying to stretch his massive bank account thinner and thinner to pay for both his girlfriend and his estranged family and Christian is trying to pay for what’s amounting to a very expensive divorce. At the same time, both are being confronted by the fact that they’re no longer spring chickens by having the success of Mario Lopez (playing a plastic surgeon whose name I cannot be bothered to remember) and his blatant embrace of the “sex sells” aesthetic shoved in their faces. It’s a little unbelievable to buy that Julian McMahon and Dylan Walsh are suddenly these obviously aged guys, but at least it’s something approaching a believable emotional throughline.

So, of course, this being Nip/Tuck, everyone involved heads for the most ridiculous takes on these storylines possible. When Kimber becoming an electrolysis technician is the only remotely reasonable plotline, you know you’re in trouble. Over the course of the episode, Mario Lopez took off his shirt to appeal to a patient, Christian contemplated masturbating for Liz’s blind lawyer (and offering detailed descriptions of what he was doing for the old guy’s benefit), and Sean, facing the fact that he’s going to be marrying his girlfriend, took a bunch of sleeping pills and seemingly tried to kill himself. (Is the protagonist being in danger of losing their mortal life how we’re going to open all of these final seasons in the wake of The Sopranos? It sure seems like Rescue Me will be headed down that path as well when it returns in the spring.) And, yet, all of that was nowhere near the most ridiculous thing that happened on this episode because Matt became a mime thief. Yes, Matt, much to his father’s chagrin, left his school to take to plying the ancient craft of mime along the LA beachfronts, only to have his sole tip and his ancient stereo stolen when he did so. And then, when he went to a coffee shop and didn’t have the requisite cash, he robbed the place with a fake gun. In full mime regalia. Yes, this is what you get from this show now. Mime thieves.

I’d say more but that pretty much sums up Nip/Tuck as a whole now. You start out with some nicely wrought apocalyptic doom with the voice of an Oscar-winning actress, and you end up with a blind lawyer masturbation session and a mime thief. I’m sure this appeals to someone, but like so many FX series (no, not The Shield, which was awesome), the gap between what Nip/Tuck seemed like it was going to be and what it actually became remains ever present.

Stray observations:

  • It took me forever to pick out that piece of music the episode kept using, but I’m pretty sure it’s a piece of score from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I always hate it when TV shows use movie score pieces because it drives me crazy trying to remember where they’re from.
  • I hope Linda Hunt comes back, though I'm not hopeful, since she's on NCIS: LA.
  • Can we make “mime thief” stand in for some common TV thing like “jump the shark” stands in for when a TV show finally loses it?
  • We briefly discussed adding this show, but no one was masochistic enough. Someone will cover the series finale when it finally lands in 2054.

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