I’ve been listening to the FX series while at work lately. I caught one episode a few years ago and it seemed well enough done, but I figured that it was probably an abnormally good episode. N/T is a series that by all measures I should not care for at all. I’m not big into medical dramas to begin with and that goes doubly for cosmetic surgery wherein it’s entirely voluntary and often with unfortunate motives. How can they make an interesting show about this?

I’m closing in on the end of the second season right now and my reservations have only intensified. In addition to to being about plastic surgery, it contains many things that I consider markers of bad television. For instance, it contains copious amounts of sex. Enough so that sometimes I have to momentarily stop what I’m doing to take a look and figure out who precisely is having sex with whom. The other thing is the introduction of lesbians and lesbianism. I don’t have a problem with homosexuality (particularly lesbianism!), but I’ve still found that most shows that throw in lesbian characters are trying to add jalepenos to make bland soup taste interesting. Both lesbianism and excessive amounts of sex, in my experience, are put into shows that don’t have much to offer. It really doesn’t bother me (I don’t fast forward or look away or whatever), but it’s generally something done to try to be “edgy” and “socially relevant” to compensate for weak characterization.

But despite all of this, it’s a really good show. I’ve constantly been asking myself how a show about plastic surgery that employs these techniques can be this good. It’s not the best television show out there by any means, but it nonetheless has solid characters, a good plot, and actually manages to be thoughtful. In fact, the last thing is the most impressive. It’s made me think about things that I generally don’t.

The show is thoughtful and relevant because so much of our culture is fixated on sex and beauty and a cosmetic surgery clinic is ground zero for that. I hadn’t really thought that much about it until N/T, but it’s really quite true. I would have thought that this theme could be explored in a handful of episodes, but they keep going and I am not at all bored with it yet.

The surgeons, Sean McNamara and Christian Troy, start off every episode asking a potential client what they don’t like about themselves. It’s an interesting bit of commentary about the surgery. It’s not merely about improving oneself, but it’s about compensating for what one doesn’t like. Sometimes it’s more understandable (fixing an injury or correcting a malformation), sometimes it’s frivolous, and sometimes it’s downright disturbing. I’m not sure whether real life plastic surgeons do this (they might to avoid potential lawsuits), but they screen out patients that are looking for something that physical enhancements won’t give them. The question of whether or not they will operate at all and the debates that ensues between the doctors is pretty central to the show. Questions are explored about why we want to look better than we do, what price we may pay for that, and at what point should we buckle down and say “this is who I am”?

Aside from the clinic aspect of the show, it also has an interesting cast of characters. The characters are generally pretty straightforward, but as time goes on they grow in ways that are interesting. Sometimes they’re not growing so much as you’re learning things about them that you didn’t know. And sometimes they’re refusing to grow and change, much to the viewer’s frustration and sometimes to the viewer’s delight. At the outset Sean McNamara is a typical, conservative family man while Christian Troy a licentious sex-fiend. They clash and, pleasantly, neither is proven to be right all of the time. Sean is trapped in a pretty unhappy marriage (though, unlike with some shows, with a very three-dimensional wife) and Christian is in a cycle of depravity that leaves him more numb than fulfilled. But unlike other dramas, the characters are working through their issues, and nothing so simple as as Sean becoming more laid back and Christian taking on more responsibilities.

The show is far from perfect. The sex scenes still add a bit of unnecessary sensationalism. Even though the character development is good, it probably would have been better if the starting point for the characters were a little more three-dimensional.

Premise: B+ (I thought it would be a D!)
Characters: C+/B- (The main characters start off pretty one-dimensional, but the supporting cast is great)
Discipline: C- (Unnecessary sensationalism)
Thoughtfulness: B+ (Not every episode is an ethical dilemma, but the ones they put forth are questions rather than exclamation points)
Plotting: A (It’s incredibly addictive past a couple episodes)
Acting: ?? (Hard to say because I’m listening and not watching. Seems fine, though)
Dialogue: C+ (Some good quotable quotes, but could use some levity)
Unpredictability: B+ (Sometimes I see it coming, but they’ve thrown me for a loop)
Cohesion: B+ (later revelations make earlier scenes make more sense, characters come and go in a pretty natural manner)
Final Grade: B/B+

Category: Theater

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2 Responses to Reflections on Nip/Tuck

  1. Peter says:

    For all its edginess, the show still has to follow FCC censorship rules. Many episodes have involved breast enlargements … but you’ll never actually see the enlarged “items.” And the characters love using the s-word but studiously avoid the f-word.

  2. trumwill says:

    Unless something has changed recently, cable is not bound by FCC decency regulations. I think that they’re worried it might come to that so they are watching themselves, but they still throw things around that wouldn’t be allowed airwave television. Mostly, though, they’re bound by advertisers who will jump ship with too much negative publicity.

    Shows not bound by advertisers, like those on HBO, are usually willing to go even a step further.

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