Although the set-up about plastic surgery and the quest for eternal youth and physical perfection remains at its core, “Nip/Tuck” has, at times, lost its way amid a soapy maze of eccentrics and psycho killers — with the latest member of that latter unsavory group lingering into season five thanks to last year’s gory cliffhanger. Once that plot thread is dispatched, the premiere becomes a bit more grounded in reality, though it seems unlikely the show can rebound at this stage to recapture the exquisite beauty that characterized its episodic youth.
The program did enjoy an infusion of energy by relocating its Miami surgeons, Sean (Dylan Walsh) and man-whore Christian (Julian McMahon), to L.A. last season, offering entrée into a whole new level of narcissism and shallowness thanks to their involvement in over-the-top TV soap “Hearts and Scalpels.” OK, so “Entourage” got there first, but there were still plenty of laughs and even some poignancy in the situations, as well as the role reversal as Sean took to his new environs while Christian struggled to adapt.
Alas, after the misguided, overplayed plot surrounding serial killer the Carver, the show drifted back into that bloody territory — this time thanks to Sean’s bunny-broiling agent (an extremely game Sharon Gless), whose crazed jealousy prompted her to stab him in last season’s finale.
The new batch of episodes finds a recovering Sean moving on to address new challenges (no spoilers here), while Christian faces a test of his own. One can only hope that augurs a return to the show’s roots — filtering their quirks, fears and foibles through the exotic cases that come through their door, as opposed to degenerating into a half-assed slasher pic.
Series creator Ryan Murphy has an acerbic, lacerating eye when it comes to cutting through society’s hypocrisies about standards of beauty, and his leading men are still a well-matched team for all their dramatic ups and downs (pun only partially intended).
While “Nip/Tuck” is still enjoyable, it’s fallen pretty far and mighty fast from the heady terrain it once occupied — at times failing to recognize the distinction between being truly provocative and merely titillating. And while the show has stayed mostly watchable in the process, it too often has become a metaphor for its central conceit — another one of those TV series left to contemplate its own age lines in the mirror and ruminate, wistfully, on its best days being behind it.