Thursday, January 08, 2009

DVD Junkie #4: Nip/Tuck

Now I just want to say, despite what may transpire in the paragraphs to follow, this show is very close to my heart in many ways. Nip/Tuck is known for great music editing, beautiful design, and some of the best special effects makeup guys in the business. But what really sets this show apart from its peers is the writing. Honestly, i don't know what to think about the writers. either they have more fun than anyone else in the business, or they've gone completely shit-eatingly bonkers. And I mean bonkers - Tom Cruise without a publicist bonkers. Gary Busey off his meds bonkers. Amy Winehouse with a Chinese finger trap bonkers.

The first positive thing that floats to mind for me with Nip/Tuck is that the promos are great. This will be the first time (of probably hundreds) that I'll laud the skills of those talented people who think up and execute promos for FX - the slickness, the richness, and above all, the specificity that goes into thos promos is fantastic. This season they've been teasing us since August with Follies style dancers in low-cut tops dancing with over-sized medical instruments, and there's even some Kanye to back it up.

What's great is that the slick promos are actually backed up by real substance - FX is the most consistent cable network on TV for excellent original programming. With their dramas, they've had very few out and out bad shows. They're like the less-extreme cousin to HBO and Showtime - and I have a theory that the conservative limits placed on them by being "just" a cable network has forced them to spend a lot more time and effort on producing a high quality product than a good number of their premium cable rivals. This is mirrored in the kind of talent they attract - their shows have garnered long-running starring and guest starring roles by Oscar winning and high-octane actors (and don't try to feed me any Timothy Hutton crap. I'm talking Glenn Close, Peter Dinklage, Forest Whitaker, and Danny DeVito here, among others. Timothy Hutton won for Ordinary People, and I had to imdb him to even know that, and now he's in a show on TNT so i think we can all agree that shit don't count). I'll be tackling many of these FX shows one at a time, but all you need to know now is that FX usually ain't nothing to fuck wit' when it comes to original programming. Nip/Tuck on the other hand, definitely is.

Nip/Tuck tells the story of two Miami plastic surgeons who are best friends and have a joint practice - one's a poon-hound playboy type, the other's a family man. As they help people with their increasingly ridiculous plastic surgery needs, the slight semblance of reality that helped the audience make it through the first season is stripped away, to expose the viewer to the true madness that lies at the heart of any writer who goes into a project without a beat sheet or a series bible.

Firstly, Nip/Tuck is trashy - it's like if the cast members of Dynasty all got medical degrees and tans, then opened shop in General Hospital - but it's trashy with such reckless abandon, with such wanton lack of regard for everyone involved - viewer and character alike - that you can't help but be at least fascinated. And the fact is, the first season sets up the characters so succinctly and beautifully that you actually care about what happens to these awful, awful people. The writers' flair for the overblown is so predictable you can see plot twists brewing from three episodes off, but you still watch, because it's that fucking fun.

ZOMGLESBIANS!!! We cast Portia De Rossi as a LESBIAN!

As the show has moved from one season to the next, the plot has been stretched thinner than an aging socialite's skin. The first two seasons were the only ones with any real plot to them, and honestly if you're looking for an engaging story, that's where you should stop. Because of the way the second season ends, you may be tempted to continue to the third - but trust me, it's not worth it. That way, madness lies, as it is slowly revealed that no one had any idea where they were going with any of this. After the half-hearted attempt at plot that the third season presents, the show transforms into some dadaist exquisite corpse, disjointed and without any real glue to hold the whole thing together. Seriously, it's like they have four people on the writing staff, and one of them knows current events, and the next has a medial dictionary, and the next has a wish list from the effects department, and the last one took a screenwriting workshop at the learning annex and left halfway through because they wanted to make him watch foreign films and he "doesn't go to the movies to read".

You think I'm joking, but it's true.

I realized that the writing of Nip/Tuck had been turned over to the Harry Potter slash writers that got banned from livejournal during the episode that one of the major, longtime characters has their kidney stolen, and not one person on the show bats an eye. This was during season four, so I hung on far longer than anyone really should, but still. Season Four is unusual in several ways, most notably for the fact that this is the season when things truly start flying off the handle in earnest. One of the only grounding forces in this shit-storm of crazy is an excellent cameo by Peter Dinklage, who brings a tiny modicum of respectability to the show that is quickly countered by an even more prominent cameo by Rosie O'Donnell.

And guess what? One of these two guys fucks Rosie O'Donnell

After season four, everyone finally realized the show was going to die a slow, painful death if they didn't enact a major paradigm shift, which they did by moving the show's location from Miami to Los Angeles. This gave them a chance to change things fundamentally. They could have struck off into another bold direction, marking new territory and reclaiming the emotional connection they once had with their viewers. And what do they do instead? The delve into meth, build-a-bear, and have a cameo from everyone's favorite questionably famous hoodrat New York.

Despite the writing, one of the reasons I originally became interested in Nip/Tuck, and one of the truly unimpeachable parts of the show's concept and design, is their special effects make-up. Throughout their seasons, Nip/Tuck's make-up is impeccable in a way that special effects makeup usually isn't - in most shows and movies, usually once you know what to look for in effects you can spot places where the artists have slacked off - a seam here, some overzealous stippling there - but Nip/Tuck's makeup has a craftsmanship to it that is uncanny. In my five years of watching this show I can't think of any time the effects have been obviously lacking or lazy. it's pretty gruesome, honestly - there's a lot of gore in the surgeries, and little is left to the imagination, but the ridiculousness of the plot is complemented nicely by the pseudo-realistic brutality of what is actually done to bodies and faces during even the most mundane procedures. Interestingly enough, it's that realistic feel that helps take this show over the top.

I must admit, though, for all of the bullshit and ridiculousness this show has put me through, I'm still watching. Season six started this week, and once again I'm hopeful that these writers can turn it around. I mean, they've got everything going for them. The acting is excellent at it's best and only flat at its worst. The design is fantastic, and as the show has grown more unreal and stylized, the costumes and sets have reflected that. Everyone else is working together seamlessly, it's just the writing that needs to get in line and stop letting everyone down. Seriously. What the hell, people?

DVD Junkie is a weekly review of TV Series on DVD. Kosmic takes her cable dramas seriously, and actually enjoys this show a lot, because of the horrible writing.

1 comment:

Zombie said...

This is one of those shows that's very *quietly* good. I never hear much about it, but while interning my senior year we'd have the first two seasons playing on the conference room TV. I really dug it - I'll have to watch past season two one of these days!