To start, a confession: I am not a die-hard "Nip/Tuck" fan. I keep tabs of the show, and I'll watch maybe half the episodes in a given season. I appreciate its satirical edge and its cynicism, but there usually comes a point every year where the show goes a little too far over the top for my taste, and I have to cool it for a while.
The end of season three and the start of season four was one of those points. The wrapup of the Carver story and the heavy drama early last season kept me away until toward the end of season four. By then, though, the series seemed to have found itself again by refocusing on its two leads, Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) and Christian Troy (Julian McMahon), and reclaiming its sense of humor.
Those two developments continue with the start of the show's fifth season, which kicks off at 10 p.m. ET Tuesday on FX. The big news is that our two plastic surgeons have pulled up stakes in Miami and settled in Los Angeles, where business, at least at the start, is unquestionably not booming. Things are so bad, in fact, that Sean and Christian shoot hoops in the operating theater and have to resort to trolling for business at a bar.
Fortunately for them, their nightclub shenanigans bring them into contact with a powerful publicist (guest star Lauren Hutton, clearly having a ball) who in turn sets them up with a consulting job on a godawful TV series called "Hearts 'n Scalpels."
The show-within-the-show, run by harried producer Freddy Prune (Oliver Platt), contains some of the funniest moments on the show in a long time, as Murphy gleefully mocks the worst tendencies of his own show, other medical dramas and the business in general. Bradley Cooper, as the show's egomaniacal star, and Paula Marshall, his classically trained and deeply insecure co-star, will be semi-regulars along with Platt, and they all do a fine job of playing the joke perfectly straight.
Murphy has a little more on its mind, though, than just poking fun at the raging ids of Hollywood. "Nip/Tuck" has always been about people trying to transform themselves, and in addition to beauty, the show can now use fame as a metaphor for that struggle. The usual dynamic between Sean and Christian gets reversed early on in the new season, and it brings out a lesser-seen (though not entirely surprising) side in each of them that's refreshing to see after four seasons of mostly watching it go the other way.
The show's facility with guest stars also gets a fresh jolt from the change in location. Daphne Zuniga, who guests in Tuesday's premiere, and Marshall each have roles that probe what it means to be an actress who's not the newest, youngest thing in town. It's occasionally pretty harsh stuff, but it's effective too.
What remains to be seen is how Murphy will get the rest of his regulars to the West Coast. John Hensley's Matt is heard but not seen, and Joely Richardson's Julia appears in episode two, but it's hardly clear whether she'll be sticking around. If Murphy and Co. manage to pull it off without the action seeming too contrived, it will be something of a feat.
It's not a stretch, though, to say that "Nip/Tuck" has been reinvigorated by the new location. The actors are relishing the change of scenery and all that it brings, and Murphy himself seems more engaged as well. It might even be enough to make this season's drop-in last a little while longer.