While not entirely rebounding to top form, a change of venue has helped “Nip/Tuck” get much of its mojo back. Trading in Miami for Los Angeles, plastic surgery duo McNamara/Troy discover the Big Orange offers a new set of challenges — beginning with the need for star quality to drum up new business. The solution — becoming consultants on a medical TV drama — not only provides series creator Ryan Murphy an opportunity to vent but breathes life into the FX show, providing an “Entourage”-like glimpse of Hollywood at its most shallow, self-absorbed and banal.
Seeking a change of venue after his divorce, Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) decided on the move west at the end of season four, and ladies man Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) opted to go along with him. Soon enough, however, they realize that they’re not in Miami anymore.
“Jesus, has anyone in this town not had plastic surgery?” Sean mutters, as they encounter a series of actress/model types while scouting for business at a local bar.
Illumination comes from a high-end publicist (Lauren Hutton) who schools the boys on the unforgiving nature of Los Angeles and hooks them up with the harried producer (a perfectly cast Oliver Platt) of an awful TV show titled “Hearts ‘n Scalpels.” Among their new clients, meanwhile, is a studio exec who takes solace from his high-pressure job by receiving abuse from a dominatrix (Tia Carrere).
At its core, “Nip/Tuck” remains an indicting rumination on society’s preoccupation with beauty, as well as a portrait of the enduring friendship between Sean and Christian, a pair who find their roles rather intriguingly reversed — as Sean quickly takes to his new surroundings, while Christian doesn’t — in the season premiere.
In getting back to basics, Murphy has also rediscovered one of the program’s fundamental strengths — creating sensational roles for, shall we say, maturing actresses, from Hutton and Carrere to Daphne Zuniga and Paula Marshall as performers struggling to hang on in the face of the media’s youth obsession.
The biting Hollywood twists — including a riff on award shows (“I can’t believe ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ won,” Sean says), and a subplot about Marilyn Monroe impersonators — don’t entirely obscure some false notes involving the central characters that become more pronounced in the second episode. For the most part, though, a series that had become rather joyless is, again, a lot of fun.
In some respects, “Nip/Tuck” became a victim of its own success, incorporating an addictive mystery about serial slasher the Carver that inflated ratings — only to pay off that arc in horribly ill-advised fashion, leaving an acrid taste in the mouths of many viewers.
So if it’s not the great show it was, the latest incarnation proves extremely watchable, which is surely welcome. Besides, as the surgeons might observe, nobody stays flawless for long.