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Nip/Tuck: Season 5 - Carly Summers (first episode reviewed)


Review by Jack Foley

INDIELONDON singles out notable episodes from current television series for stand-alone reviews. On this occasion we take a look at the first episode of Nip/Tuck: Season 5 entitled Carly Summers.

What’s the story? Sean (Dylan Walsh) and Christian (Julian McMahon) have relocated their practice from Miami to Los Angeles and find themselves having to start from scratch business-wise. But what they thought would naturally fall into place turns out to require some foot work and so they hit the town and begin discovering a whole new world. Things take a turn for the better, however, when the doctors are asked to consult on a melodramatic daytime soap Hearts ‘N’ Scalpels.

Was it any good? You can’t fault series creator Ryan Murphy for attempting to freshen things up as Nip/Tuck entered its fifth season. But while the banter between Sean and Christian was still fun, and the ensuing hour provided effortlessly vacuous viewing, the sense that it is way past its prime was difficult to shrug off.

What’s more, the increasingly outrageous storylines feel desperate at times (especially in its depiction of a dominatrix), while the inclusion of a show within a show format using Hearts N Scalpels merely seems like a thinly veiled excuse to revisit some of the show’s past greatest hits – for giggles.

Digging a little deeper: Nip/Tuck would never profess to be anything but superficial TV – especially given the world it depicts. But whereas seasons two and three, in particular, managed to marry hard-hitting storylines with a strong emotional backbone, whilst still managing to shock, seasons four and five (so far) have been found wanting.

Carly Summers certainly had its moments, and the show may yet benefit from its change of location and decision to re-focus on Sean and Christian, but it still felt as though it was trying too hard to rediscover its creative mojo.

Things began brightly enough, as the docs hit the LA nightclub scene in search of new patients, only for a dejected Christian to confess that trying to sell plastic surgery in Hollywood is “like trying to sell semen in a whorehouse”.

But once they had met with a tough, sassy agent in the form of Lauren Hutton’s Fiona McNeil, who had put them onto the Hearts N Scalpels TV series, the episode seemed more interested in camping things up (courtesy of Oliver Platt’s producer, Freddy Prune) and poking even more fun at the ludicrous nature of celebrity vanity.

As such, Julian McMahon got to exhibit some nicely self-depracating moments as he sought to enhance his TV appearance with the aid of hair plugs, while another guest star, Jennifer Coolidge (yep, Stifler’s mom), over-egged the pudding as a hysterial plastic surgery patient (who required skin to be grafted from her “pussy lips” to replace that which she’d accidentally burnt off from her face). The story in question, however, had been lifted from a past Nip/Tuck episode and given to Hearts N Scalpels by the surgeons in a bid to secure their services.

The big punchline, however, was that while Christian was the first to embrace the TV opportunity and loved the idea of seeing himself on the small screen, Sean was eventually the one to reap the rewards – thereby planting the seeds for the inevitable games of one upmanship to begin between them.

The show within a show format is vaguely amusing but really kind of obvious and also quite desperate. It certainly enables the writers to revisit some of the show’s past highlights, whilst firing the odd potshot at the state of daytime TV soap.

The show’s new location in Hollywood also provides ample opportunity for plenty of scathing rebukes at the expense of materialism and celebrity (especially its absurdity).

This proved particularly effective during Christian’s attempts to seduce a middle-aged actress – the Carly Summers of the title, played extremely well by Daphne Zuniga – into having career-enhancing surgery, but less effective in its depiction of a high-flying studio boss (Craig Bierko) who sought respite from his controlled lifestyle by being painfully humiliated by a dominatrix named Mistress Dark Pain (Tia Carrere), who later developed the hots for Sean.

The dominatrix story was evidence of the show straining too hard to shock (but not in a good way), while the Carly Summers section at least had Christian wrestling with his own demons as he attempted to be kind, only to revert to formula come the episode’s final moments when he callously tipped off a celebrity magazine about the procedure to further his own reputation.

So, the prognosis is good but not great for this long-running show. Viewing remains undemanding and uncomplicated, but it’s been some time since it could be described as essential. The fresh impetus provided by its own facelift could well start crumbling fast….

Season five of Nip/Tuck is currently airing on F/X on Tuesday nights, from 10pm

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