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‘Nip/Tuck’ still sharp in second season

FX's "Nip/Tuck" has proven it's more than a one-joke novelty act about plastic surgeons.
/ Source: The Associated Press

“Nip/Tuck” continues to defy its audience’s expectations by overwhelming them.

It could have been nothing more than a one-joke novelty act: a racy adult comedy-drama about a pair of plastic surgeons who (as we are reminded in this week’s episode) earn 70 percent of their seven-figure income from breast implants.

Never fear, “Nip/Tuck” doesn’t shy from boob jobs (even, this week, for a man).

But, in its second season, this FX series continues to do much more, using cosmetic surgery as a gateway to the soul. With sly agility it puts its characters under the knife to expose hidden truths about love, sex, beauty, aging, heartache, manhood and the vagaries of male friendship.

It remains TV’s most fearless series — and not just because of those all-too-graphic, music-accompanied surgery scenes. In the hands of creator Ryan Murphy, “Nip/Tuck” remains outrageous yet assured as it bridges the gap between outward appearances and private verities, continuing to startle its audience in the process.

On the surface, dashing single-guy Dr. Christian Troy and understated family man Dr. Sean McNamara have been living the dream, and “Nip/Tuck” basks in their success: their lucrative Miami Beach practice; Sean’s happy home; Christian’s glamorous women and bachelor pad.

But holding on to what they have is the trick. And so far they have weathered malpractice suits, extortion, a death threat, assault, plus cash-flow problems and midlife crises. In a riotously funny moment on this often funny drama, lady-killer Christian broke his nose during sex. “Nip/Tuck” teeters at the brink of disaster on a nearly weekly basis.

Crisis managementNow they have hit a crisis like none before. They now know what viewers suspected for some time: that Christian is the father of Sean’s high-school-age son from when, in college, he slept (just once) with Sean’s wife, Julia — probably the only woman this binge womanizer has ever loved.

Sean has taken the news badly, to say the least. But just as it seemed their practice was on the rocks, the doctors last week were summoned to take part in one final case: experimental surgery to separate adult conjoined twins.

The operation was a failure. The twins, it turned out, never wanted to live life apart. The lesson wasn’t lost on Christian and Sean. Still bonded as each other’s best friend, they will carry on together, however damaged their partnership.

“I will never forgive you for what happened,” Sean (played by Dylan Walsh) told Christian (Julian McMahon). Then, referring to his son, to whom Christian is godfather, he added: “We raised Matt together. He was always the best part of both of us, and that’s a connection I can’t let die.”

On this week’s episode (Tuesday at 10 p.m.), it’s poor Julia, the female point of the triangle, who continues to take the brunt of Sean’s rage. Unhinged, he has thrown her out of their house and can barely bring himself to speak to her.

“Sean, why is it that you can forgive Christian but not me?” asks Julia (Joely Richardson), who, being a woman, just can’t understand.

“I don’t know if I’ve forgiven him,” seethes Sean. “How dare you ask me that?”

Chronicling dissatisfactionMeanwhile, Kimber Henry, a dishy actress-model-whatever whom Christian has previously dated and discarded, is back in the picture — and in the doctors’ office for a consultation, along with her prototype of a life-size “Miss Kimber” sex doll being marketed by her adult-film producer. She wants the doctors’ services in, um, improving a part of its anatomy.

“I have orifice approval,” she announces.

Before the episode is over, Sean has bedded “Miss Kimber” in a startling tryst (a first for TV drama?) as well as its flesh-and-blood counterpart (played by Kelly Carlson). Thus does “Nip/Tuck” again investigate the sometimes shadowy distinction between what’s fantasy and what’s real, while demonstrating man’s capacity for vengeance against those he loves most: With Kimber, Sean gets to punish both Christian and Julia.

In short, “Nip/Tuck” chronicles dissatisfaction.

The theme song, played against images of stark-white, perfect mannequins, implores, “Make me beautiful.”

And “Tell me what you don’t like about yourself” is the standard refrain from Sean and Christian to their prospective clients — the assumption being that self-acceptance is a function of appearance.

Sometimes it is. But more often on “Nip/Tuck,” the lives and labors of Sean and Christian add up to disappointment.

“I can see the doll is well fabricated,” Sean tells Kimber when she meets with him and Christian. “But in the end, she’s just rubber. She’s not real.”

To which Kimber replies, “Sometimes, Doctor, real isn’t what you want.”

That may be. But obscuring the difference is what they’re all about.