Creatively speaking, few programs have experienced the wide swing in operatic highs and wince-inducing lows as “Nip/Tuck,” which at its best paved the way for basic cable fare to ambitiously challenge HBO in the prestige realm. So it’s encouraging to see the series return for its sixth-season arc of 10 episodes in reasonably solid fashion, albeit after dispensing a bit too rapidly with the nifty conflict laid out in last season’s cliffhanger.
Dark and twisted, the new episodes again find the partners of McNamara/Troy unlucky in love — and grappling with the ill effects of a sluggish economy on the plastic-surgery biz. The premiere uses an ersatz documentary format (narrated by Linda Hunt) to recount the story thus far, which saw Dr. Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) discover that his fatal cancer diagnosis was actually mistaken — good news that he received right after marrying Liz (Roma Maffia) for estate-planning purposes.
Partner Sean (Dylan Walsh), meanwhile, has a lovely girlfriend in Teddy (Rose McGowan, taking over the role from Katee Sackhoff), but his anxiety about the business’ financial woes is keeping him up nights — so much so that he begins abusing pills in order to sleep.
Further highlighting the doctors’ apprehensions about aging, Sean and Christian feel compelled to recruit a younger partner (Mario Lopez), whose washboard abs offer the older surgeons a nagging reminder of life on the wrong side of 40. Christian also enlists Kimber (Kelly Carlson) to help with a lewd money-making scheme that yields several amusing moments.
At its best, “Nip/Tuck” offered a searing indictment of society’s preoccupation with youth and beauty and the sordid depths to which that pursuit would go — while simultaneously providing the voyeuristic allure of beautiful people in tawdry situations. Now, fans will mostly have to settle for the soapy denouement of Sean and Christian’s not-so-excellent adventures, as they demonstrate greater proficiency in terms of sexual acrobatics than the relationships that go with them.
The central duo’s bond, of course, has been the program’s one constant, and even with its periodic missteps and excesses (see “The Carver” payoff), it’s worth hanging around to see where series creator Ryan Murphy and company choose to leave them.
Season seven will be the show’s last, and given “Nip/Tuck’s” dour worldview, a happy ending hardly seems to be in the cards. In its wild storylines, virtually every character has suffered scars, both emotional and literal; we’ll just have to wait to see if the last cuts are the deepest.