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Warner Home Video presents
"Tell me what you don't like about yourself."
DVD ReviewCable used to be an outlet for network cast-offs: re-runs of Walker: Texas Ranger and endless repeats of bad 1980s fare (both movies and sit-coms). But these days, HBO, USA, and recently, FX, are putting the big four to shame with risky series that are impressive not only because they show things that could never air on network TV, but because they are, shockingly enough, consistently well-written, well-acted, and original. Nip/Tuck, a 2003 drama from the upstart FX network (a spin-off of Fox), has certainly made a name for itself. Nominated for an American Film Institute award and a Golden Globe as one of the best shows on TV, it stands proudly next to the network's gritty cop drama The Shield.
The series' central conceit is, I have to say, a pretty good one: Two attractive men spend their days making others beautiful, while their ugly inner beings fester away. Unfortunately, that means your characters are going to be, by definition, pretty despicable. And how. Dr. Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) isn't too bad. He's the nice one, the one who, at first, doesn't want to perform illegal surgery on drug lords or sleep with his patients. He even wants to do surgeries pro-bono for patients who can't afford reconstructive work. But he's also terminally self-absorbed and often pathetic, and wound so tight he'd pop if you poked him with a scalpel. He also cheats on his wife, Julie (Joely Richardson), with whom he has two children. Sean is little match for his partner Christian (Julian McMahon), however. A sex addict and borderline sociopath, Christian uses people for his own pleasure and regularly sleeps with his patients, or anyone else who happens to walk by. He's got no moral compass; he looks good, and he knows it. He's also in love with Julie, and barely able to control his urges.
Not that Julie is the saint, either. She's often cruel to her confused, whimpering husband, she contemplates affairs with both Christian and a much-younger college classmate... she even kills her daughter's hamster and flushes it down the toilet. Son Matt (John Hensley, who looks like Michael Jackson minus a few years of surgery) has his share of problems too: his lesbian-leaning girlfriend wants him to participate in a threesome, he and a friend do something very bad in a car while under the influence of marijuana.
At first, I found the idea of spending time with these petty, hateful people unappealing; it was only the soap opera plots that kept me interested. There is certainly no shortage of titillating material: drug dealers demanding surgery, a litigious patient addicted to surgery, a transvestite seeking help after a botched operation, and plenty of wacky, weekly "extreme makeovers" (former fat lady with huge flabby underarms, white man who wants to look Asian for his wife).
But about halfway through the first season's 13-episode run, the producers settle down a bit. The shocking elements remain, for sure, particularly the surgery scenes, which are as graphic as any you'd see in real life and rough enough to make the ravages of age look positively pleasant. But the twisting plot turns become a part of the show, not it's raison d'être. The characters become actual people instead of caricatures (albeit still rather exaggerated). Sean's struggles with his marriage culminate in a touching romance with a patient, a cancer survivor who has undergone a double mastectomy. Christian struggles with his sexual addiction after getting involved with a, shall we say, possessive lover. Both doctors believe they have their lives in check, but their emotions get the better of them at the worst times.
Such a soapy, over-the-top series wouldn't work without actors who totally commit to their roles, but that isn't a problem: Nip/Tuck has one of the strongest casts of any series in recent memory. Walsh and McMahon have great chemistry; essentially, the series is a love story between the two partners, who will cheat on their wives and girlfriends, contemplate immoral acts, but never truly betray each other, and the actors sell that life-long friendship effortlessly. Richardson is even better; she gives wonderful range to a character that often hits the same notes over and over. Even the "patients of the week" are generally good.
If the season has an arc, it's Christian and Sean's business problems, as they deal with competition from an inferior but self-promoting surgeon who is in it for the money and the glory. They also have to face the repercussions of Christian's decision to help a drug dealer in the pilot; by year's end, the duo is forced to turn their practice into a one-hour-processing center from drug mules from Mexico. Through all of this, the series remains utterly ridiculous, and utterly engrossing.
Stylistically, it's as flashy as the narrative. Set in a steamy, unsettling version of Miami that also looks too bright and harsh by half, the series is slick and stylized without drawing too much attention to itself (save for the operations, which tend to be cut to music and give the director's a chance to put their own stamp on the material). There is a lot of sex (with some nudity, most of it Julian McMahon's posterior, for those who really need to know), and lots of foul language and dirty talk, but again, it's all part of the style; you either accept it and enjoy, or don't and tune out.
Nip/Tuck's first season isn't perfect, but it's better than most of what passes for edgy TV these days, and I'm counting HBO favorites like Deadwood and Six Feet Under when I say that.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Like many recent series, Nip/Tuck is filmed in 1.78:1 widescreen, and the material really shines on DVD. It's basically motion picture quality, with just a slightly grainy look betraying the lower budget. Colors are crisp, blacks are solid, and fine detail is excellent. I didn't notice much in the way of artifacting or aliasing either, and any flaws in the source material have been neatly excised (snip, snip).
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: This 2.0 track is better than average for a TV series—in addition to the strong presentation of dialogue, there is actually a fair bit of play in the presentation of music and effects across the front soundstage. Directionality is good across the right and left mains, and while support from the surrounds is limited, they do occasionally augment the pop songs on the soundtrack.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 78 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 TV Spots/Teasers
11 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Book Gatefold
Of what is included, the deleted scenes will be of the most interest to fans. Nearly every episode?? of 13—includes "scenes from the cutting room floor" (oh, what mirth!). Some are simply small character moments that take too much time to set up, some fill in a few gaps in a specific episode's plot, some are merely dull, but all are worth watching at least once. Optional commentary from creator Ryan Murphy or the episode directors explaining where the material would have been placed and why it was cut would have been a nice bonus.
The set also includes a few featurettes and documentaries that go into the "making of" process a bit. The 23-minute Giving Drama a Face Lift includes interviews with Murphy and the cast and crew, all of whom discuss how they got involved in the project and the theory behind its soapy plots and sadistic surgery scenes.
The series' slickly edited surgical/musical montages are discussed in Are They Real or Fake?: The Miraculous Makeup Effects of Nip/Tuck (again with the mirth!). The creative talents behind some of the grossest effects on television (I did not need to see how butt implants are installed, thanks) talk about the work that goes into creating these signature scenes of medical mayhem.
Realistic Expectation: The Practice of Plastic Surgery is a 6-minute piece on (obviously) the real world practice of making people look fake, an interesting conclusion considering the way doctors rallied against the show early on for it's sensationalistic, sexualized presentation of an already controversial industry. In the end, several surgeons actually compliment the series for a realistic portrayal of surgery and recovery.
Rounding out the disc is a brief music video for the theme song, A Perfect Lie (basically the credit sequence with a few clips interspersed), a cute gag reel, and a brief trailer for Season Two, which began airing in the summer of 2004 on FX.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsLike Six Feet Under, I sometimes find Nip/Tuck comes off a little smug, a little too proud of its push-the-envelope content. But luckily, the hit FX series backs up the sex, drugs, and blood and guts with some actual substance: powerhouse acting and rich, emotional characters given a lot to do in soapy, contrived, never less than engrossing story arcs. From audio, to video, to extra content, Warner's first season DVD release is a cut above.
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