Tuned In: New town works wonders for 'Nip/Tuck'

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Ever since it began, I've run hot and cold on FX's "Nip/Tuck" (10 p.m. Tuesday). The sexual escapades of plastic surgeons Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) and especially Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) are often ridiculously over the top, but the series sometimes makes up for its excesses by tackling social issues or executing a shocking brilliant plot twist -- I'm thinking of Ava (Famke Janssen), the "she" who turned out to be a "he" in season two.

By season four, "Nip/Tuck" seemed to run out of steam and story, and then it ended with a surprise: The docs pulled up stakes from Miami and moved to Hollywood, the mecca of plastic surgery. It seemed like a last-ditch effort to breathe new life into an aging show. Having watched the first two episodes, I'm pleasantly surprised to say: It worked.

"Nip/Tuck" is thriving in its new locale, even if the McNamara/Troy practice is not. The two best buds are living together, but they have few patients to suture. That begins to change when they meet a publicist (Lauren Hutton) who starts pushing clients their way, including an actress (Daphne Zuniga), whom Hollywood suits have deemed too old for the lead in big-screen romantic comedies, including one she's desperate for that would have her play a "single mother coal miner with an autistic child."

"Tell us you can refresh Carly's face so we can refresh her career," the publicist says.

But the real fun comes when Sean and Christian gets jobs as consultants on the plastic surgery TV drama "Hearts 'N Scalpels," an over-sexed, over-the-top show. Sound familiar? It's a hoot to see "Nip/Tuck" creator/writer Ryan Murphy poke fun at his show and himself in the form of "Hearts 'N Scalpels" executive producer Freddy Prune (Oliver Platt).

"Hearts 'N Scalpels" suffers from an egomaniacal leading man (Bradley Cooper) and a classically trained actress (Paula Marshall) who begins a romance with Sean. Other Hollywood clients in the first two episodes sent for review include a studio chief with S&M kinks, dueling Marilyn Monroe impersonators who work in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre and Hollywood's "gay mafia."

These send-ups may not all be original gems, but the show has a spark and more comedic bits than it has had in ages.

At an FX press conference in July, executive producer Murphy said he didn't initially set "Nip/Tuck" in Los Angeles for fear it would be too "on the nose," but he's eager to explore how the characters reinvent themselves upon moving there.

"I was very interested in the idea of what happens when you hit 40 and suddenly you go from being the big fish in a small pond to the opposite," he said.

Another turnabout: In the past, Sean was the brains while Christian the pretty face of the practice. In L.A., Sean finds himself the golden boy when he lands a small recurring role on "Hearts 'N Scalpels," another exaggeration of reality -- no one really clamors for the autograph of a glamorized extra -- that "Nip/Tuck" breezes past without a second thought.

"Nip/Tuck" also will explore the temptations of L.A., and because this is "Nip/Tuck," many of those temptations will be carnal. In Tuesday's season premiere, the kinky studio chief warns the docs, "This town eats you alive. You may want to pack up your scalpels and head back to Miami while your souls are still intact."

Murphy said that notion of temptation and retaining one's identity will be the thematic thrust of the show's fifth season.

"Nip/Tuck" supporting characters -- including Liz (Roma Maffia), Matt (John Hensley), Kimber (Kelly Carlson) and Julia (Joely Richardson) -- also will make the move to the West Coast. Julia, in particular, will have some surprising news for Sean and Christian.

For Richardson, the chance to act in a different environment -- all new sets were built for the new season -- was welcome.

"Certainly with Dylan and me, we were done with that kitchen," she said, referring to the set of the home Sean and Julia shared in Miami. "There was nothing left that we could do in that kitchen."

TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Ask TV questions at www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A.


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