Goodbye, South Beach. Hello, Beverly Hills.
McNamara-Troy, the debauched plastic surgeons of “Nip/Tuck,” have hung up their Miami shingle and traded up (or so they think) for the reconstructive mecca of the famous ZIP Code 90210.
In last night’s fourth-season finale of FX’s series, Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) decided what viewers have known all along -- that he can’t live without his partner and best friend, Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh). In a season of several important goodbyes -- Julia divorced Sean for good this time and left town with their two younger children; scalpel addict Mrs. Grubman passed away and nemesis Escobar was shot to death -- the doctors shut down their Miami practice to start anew in Los Angeles.
The surprise ending only marks what fans have come to expect: Nothing on “Nip/Tuck” stays the same for long. So the season that began with the doctors celebrating their 5,000th surgery in Miami ended with the two of them glamming it up next to the Hollywood sign, with “Hollywood Swinging” playing in the background.
“I just felt there was nothing else they could do in that office,” creator Ryan Murphy said. “They’ve been through too much. The show has always been about taking big risks and taking big chances and doing things you wouldn’t expect. In Miami, these are supposedly the best plastic surgeons. Now, we’ll do the flip of that. They’ll be the little fish in the big pond, which is fun and shows a struggle and gives us room to grow.”
That has not been a problem for the Golden Globe-winning series, which has reigned over the 18-to-49-year-old demographic in basic cable since it premiered in 2003. Even last year’s over-the-top, macabre season, which turned off critics as well as some fans, didn’t seem to make anyone stop watching. In fact, “Nip/Tuck” has grown 12% this year with adults younger than 50, and is poised to end the year with its most-watched season ever, a feat uncommon among 4-year-old shows.
Perhaps the show’s continued success can be attributed to its restless energy and how in one hour it offers a taste of several different genres, mixing the real with the outrageous.
“I think our signature in the first two seasons was that we could operate on so many levels at one time,” Walsh said. “Sometimes it was gothic soap opera. Sometimes it was wicked black humor, and sometimes it was farce. Sometimes the soap opera thing was a parody, like our commentary on it, and sometimes it was full-on earnest. Last year, the humor got lost along the way and I think we really missed it. But this year I feel like we brought back those elements of the first two seasons and brought some new stuff, and for me, it’s been the most fulfilling to work on.”
It started with the show’s new use of guest stars, which included recurring roles for Larry Hagman, Peter Dinklage, Jacqueline Bisset, Sanaa Lathan, Brooke Shields, Rosie O’Donnell and Alanis Morissette, and one-episode turns for Kathleen Turner, Catherine Deneuve, Melissa Gilbert and Richard Chamberlain.
“Ryan has always been someone who has had his own obsession with celebrity and I just couldn’t think of a better way to incorporate characters than to bring in all of those extraordinary people,” McMahon said.
And there was more: Scientology was introduced as the new religion of Matt (John Hensley) and Kimber (Kelly Carlson); Sean and Julia (Joely Richardson) had a baby with a deformity that provoked the final break in their marriage; the characters were shown 20 years in the future; and Murphy borrowed a trick from the movie “Magnolia,” turning a four-minute montage in the finale into a music video.
Many of the season’s high points were comical: Sean’s interpretation of Bad Santa, Christian’s stint as a ventriloquist’s puppet, Christian and Dawn Budge’s (O’Donnell) sexual tryst, sexy Kimber’s faceoff with the Scientology figure Xenu, and the sneak peek viewers got of grown-up, messed-up Annie, the perennially neglected daughter of Sean and Julia .
“Poor Annie!” McMahon said. “That’s exactly how you thought Annie would be because can you imagine growing up in such a screwed environment? I thought everybody was hysterical but if I look like that at 60, shoot me. I’ll look like that at 85.”
McMahon may not pleased with Christian’s futuristic beer belly, but he and Walsh are both excited about the show’s move to Los Angeles, which Murphy dreamed up when he pitched the themes for the fourth season to John Landgraf, FX president and general manager, earlier this year. Murphy, who is working with a new producing team, wanted to wrap up most of the show’s ongoing story lines -- which he did -- and give his characters new challenges.
“It’s a white-knuckle ride working with Ryan,” Landgraf said. “I was worried because Miami has been a significant character in this series. But now I think it’s exactly the right creative choice to make.”
The move gives Murphy an opportunity to build new offices for McNamara-Troy and new bachelor apartments. “I just got bored with the sets. Now I can create these massively great new sets,” he said enthusiastically.
Walsh was a little more introspective about the prospect. After filming his emotional goodbye with Richardson, who had to cut short her time on the show this year to take care of her ailing daughter in England and will come back for only a few episodes next year, Walsh said he was despondent over saying goodbye to her and to Sean and Julia’s house.
“Joely and I have had so many intense scenes over the last four seasons in that house,” Walsh said. “It’s always so much more intimate to play those kinds of scenes with an actress, going through the worst a marriage can go through, than to do a sex scene. By the end, when she walks away, Joely or Julia, whichever one, it’s very sad to me. There’s a lot invested there.”
Murphy understands the fans feel that way too, so Sean and Christian will not be moving alone. Matt and Kimber will have their baby, but Matt will move to Los Angeles to go to college and medical school. Kimber will be closer to Scientology and porn. Liz (Roma Maffia) will join the doctors and serve as their anesthesiologist. Julia and her children will visit.
“There’s a funny message in all of this, which is that you can keep trying to change the things around you -- your relationships, your clothes and where you live -- and in an odd way, these guys always land back where they are,” Walsh said.
But does moving to California mean that the doctors and best friends will live happily ever after? Or is “a brighter discontent the best that [they] could hope to find,” as the song by the Submarines used in the finale’s music video goes?
For the sake of the fans, let’s hope for the latter.