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Nip/Tuck

Despite an Emmy-worthy second season, "Nip/Tuck" wasn't invited to Sunday's party. So how better to seek revenge than by premiering in the heart of the fall TV season, up against firstrun network fare, and proving its mettle? Picking up from last year's cliffhanger, this always provocative drama about plastic surgeons quickly segues into heart-wrenching plots involving a morbidly obese woman and a tattooed gang member.

Despite an Emmy-worthy second season, “Nip/Tuck” wasn’t invited to Sunday’s party. So how better to seek revenge than by premiering in the heart of the fall TV season, up against firstrun network fare, and proving its mettle? Picking up from last year’s cliffhanger about the Carver, a masked slasher with a vendetta against the show’s protagonists, this always provocative drama about plastic surgeons quickly segues into heart-wrenching plots involving a morbidly obese woman and a tattooed gang member. Based on the first two episodes, Miami is still sunny, but “Nip/Tuck” is darker than ever.

Indeed, the not-so-subtle genius of this show is its ability to have it both ways — to skewer our culture’s obsession with youth and beauty while simultaneously reveling in it. That includes introducing “Boston Legal’s” Rhona Mitra as the world’s best-looking detective.

After the attack on Christian (Julian McMahon) by the Carver, his partner Sean (Dylan Walsh) brings in a new business partner, Quentin Costa (Bruno Campos), who appeared briefly last season.

Sean’s home life, meanwhile, has fallen apart, as wife Julia (Joely Richardson) presses to advance their separation into divorce and son Matt (John Hensley) wrestles with the fact that he was romantically involved with a transsexual — the dazzling twist regarding Famke Janssen’s character near the end of season two.

Both the 90-minute opener and the second episode showcase the program’s sometimes heavy-handed device in which intriguing cases mirror aspects of the central players’ lives, including a sign-language-fluent gorilla who needs surgery in order to mate. The great apes, it seems, can be just as shallow as we are. Nor does the whole Carver plot really work.

Still, there are splendid moments throughout, oscillating between pathos, humor and sexuality. In addition to a wonderful scene in which Julia smokes a joint with her detached mom (played by real-life mother Vanessa Redgrave), there’s a threesome that entangles the aforementioned Mitra with Christian’s porn-producing girlfriend Kimber (Kelly Carlson). At a certain point, I began to fear my DVD player might overheat.

At its best, “Nip/Tuck” dances right up to the line of “No, you can’t go there,” then pulls back enough to keep viewers enthralled. The nasty strains in the current season suggest that strategy continues, and it requires a surgeon’s touch.

There’s always the risk that series creator Ryan Murphy and his team will slip and hit an artery, but so far, things look beautiful.

Nip/Tuck

FX, Tues. Sept. 20, 10 p.m.

  • Production: Filmed in Los Angeles and Miami by Shephard/Robin Co. in association with Warner Bros. Television. Executive producers, Ryan Murphy, Greer Shephard, Michael M. Robin; co-executive producers, Lyn Greene, Richard Levine; supervising producer, Sean Jablonski; producers, Jennifer Salt, Patrick McKee; co-producers, Brad Falchuk, Bonnie Weis; director, Elodie Keene; writer, Murphy.
  • Crew: Camera, Christopher Baffa; production design, Liz Kay; editor, Tim Boettcher; music, James S. Levine; casting, Eric Dawson, Liz Dean. Running time: 90 MIN.
  • With: Dr. Sean McNamara - Dylan Walsh Dr. Christian Troy - Julian McMahon Julia McNamara - Joely Richardson Matt McNamara - John Hensley Liz Cruz - Roma Maffia Dr. Quentin Costa - Bruno Campos Kimber Henry - Kelly Carlson Gina Russo - Jessalyn Gilsig
  • Music By: