DOCS: In the end, Sean (Dylan Walsh), left, and Christian (Julian McMahon)… (FX )
Without disputing the place of “Nip/Tuck” in the history of basic-cable envelope-pushing, with its graphic scenes of cosmetic surgery and its myriad crazy sexcapades, I must say I have never been especially attached to this show, which begins its nine-episode seventh and final season tonight. (Its final episode will be its 100th.)
I have checked in over the years, professionally, but it is not something that calls me back to watch for pleasure. At the same time, I understand it's the sort of show that best rewards the dedicated viewer, because its plot lines -- which have involved porn, prostitution, drug addiction, kidney stealing, Scientology, serial rape/disfigurement and at least a couple of homicidal maniacs in a story about a couple of plastic surgeons -- are so relentlessly outrageous that to stand outside it at all is to see the whole business as silly beyond belief.
I'll also allow that -- as in creator Ryan Murphy’s latest venture, “Glee” -- an excellent cast goes a long way toward moderating the outrageousness, not just the principals but also such costars and cameos as Joely Richardson, her mother, Vanessa Redgrave (as her mother), Jacqueline Bissett and Sharon Gless; the mood tends to be measured even when matter is not.
And I admit as well that the surgeries themselves can be interesting in that David E. Kelley thought-experiment way -- in the first couple of episodes of the new season, we have a man awaking from a 20-year coma who wants to look like the teenager he still imagines himself to be, a self-mutilating victim of the genetic disorder Lesch-Nyhan syndrome (the question being how many times you repair the lips of a man who is just going to chew them off again), and a beautiful girl who would like to be a little less beautiful so that men will stop hitting on her and women might like her more. Being a beautiful girl, she may be sticking around the show for a while.
Still, we are left with two main characters, one of whom is a self-centered jerk and the other a self-sabotaging schlemiel and who, even according to each other, are unlikely to change. ("You can't evolve into a decent human being," Sean tells Christian, "because it's not in your DNA.")
Given the yards of nonsense that the writers have cause to pass between them and their opposite characters, desires and world views, it is hard to understand why they still have anything at all to do with each other.
At least the strain is showing. The opening episode takes Sean and Christian on a trip back to their alma mater to collect a lifetime achievement award, although since we begin the episode watching Sean shatter the thing with a sledgehammer, it is clear from the start that the trip will not go well.
Christian wants to party like it's 1980-something, as Sean remembers, with the aid of blue-tinted flashbacks, just how his life went wrong when Christian walked into it. Of course, like many TV characters before them, they have no other options, having no other friends; their own love story will prove to be the through line, and it is becoming apparent -- perhaps it is already apparent to more regular viewers -- that the superficially smooth Christian is the needy one in this relationship.
There is something sort of sweet in that, but it's still not quite enough for me.