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TV Preview: 'Nip/Tuck' shows the shocking side of plastic surgery

Sunday, July 27, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

HOLLYWOOD -- Linda Klein, a registered nurse and the medical technical adviser on the new FX drama "Nip/Tuck," stands over a fake human torso.

When: 10 p.m. Tuesday on FX.
Starring: Julian McMahon, Dylan Walsh.

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The fake body is made of silicone and looks startlingly real, especially with a silver medical instrument that's prying apart skin from each side of an incision made in the stomach.

The body isn't just gimmicky rubber. When sliced open, it reveals fake muscle and cartilage beneath the skin.

Klein hovers above it with a bottle of fake blood, made of corn starch, food dye and preservatives. She squirts the red liquid into the open cavity to enhance the effect.

It's business as usual on Stage 1 at Paramount Pictures, home to "Nip/Tuck," an original series about Miami plastic surgeons. Nearby, another fake body lies on the operating table in mid-procedure with markings on the face to direct surgeons where to operate. This guy appears to be in for an eye job, given the amount of skin pulled back around one eye socket.

All this realism makes "Nip/Tuck" a viewing experience that goes far beyond the comparatively mild gore on "ER." But series creator Ryan Murphy insists it's necessary to be provocative.

"In the pilot of a 66 1/2-minute show, only a little under two minutes are devoted to the surgeries," he said. "My idea all along was to do a show that doesn't glamorize plastic surgery. I was very interested in the idea that people are willing to endure an incredible amount of pain to make changes in their lives."

One plastic surgeon he interviewed described a face lift as going through the windshield of a car at 70 mph and surviving and then having your face repaired.

"I thought that was such a grotesque image," Murphy said. "I felt a certain obligation to really show you what somebody goes through. ... These are violent surgeries, and I wanted to properly convey that. Doing a show about plastic surgery and not showing the truth of those operations, to me, would be irresponsible. It's the equivalent of doing a cop show without showing a gun being pulled."

"Nip/Tuck," which premiered last week, stars Dylan Walsh as Dr. Sean McNamara, a repressed plastic surgeon whose relationship with his wife, Julia (Joely Richardson), deteriorates as their children, teenage Matt (John Hensley) and pre-teen Annie (Kelsey Lynn Batelaan), watch helplessly. Murphy said the portrait of a fractured marriage and the question of whether it can be saved is one of the appeals of writing "Nip/Tuck."

"At the end of the pilot, you see both sides so equally well and you see the hurt expressed so equally that you're really rooting for them to get together," he said. "I think people react to that stuff because it is so honest and everything is said and just laid out on the table. ... It's very rare in television to see a man be as emotionally raw and honest as Sean is when pushed to the wall."

Julian McMahon plays Dr. Christian Troy, Sean's best friend and partner in their plastic surgery practice, who will be revealed to have a sad past that's left him damaged. He's the slick marketer; Sean does more precise handiwork in the operating room. Christian is also a prone-to-anger scoundrel, who thinks nothing of bedding a woman and then suggesting what she could do to enhance her body. He also has a past history with Julia and considers the McNamaras his family. Murphy said the relationship between the two surgeons is "a heterosexual love story" and that he was eager to follow the course of their friendship.

Murphy, a print journalist before creating The WB series "Popular," said "Nip/Tuck" was inspired in part by an article he once researched about a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon.

"My article was going to be going through the process sort of undercover, but still it was going to be a light feature," Murphy said. "And I went in and talked to this guy, and within five minutes he had told me six or seven things that I needed done personally to my face and body that would make me a happier person. I was stunned at how I just kept nodding my head and thinking, well, yeah, that makes perfect sense. I never wrote the article completely, but how vulnerable I was to that idea that I could fix things in my life with fixing my exterior always stuck with me."

Self-image, which he explored on his previous series, is a recurring theme in "Nip/Tuck."

"The images that we are bombarded with daily are pretty much the same image. It's the same prototypical 23-year-old posing and smiling and looking pretty," Murphy said. "I look at those people, and I sometimes feel like I don't stack up, so I go home and write these dark scenes in which people are grappling with the same things."

Plastic surgery is just a jumping-off point for "Nip/Tuck," which seeks to explore the reasons people choose to alter themselves, externally and internally.

"The show that I want to do is a show about how people transform their lives on every level," he said. "The opening of every show is almost always [Sean asking a patient], 'Tell me what you don't like about yourself.' I think that people, if you say that to them, will immediately go to the bad instead of the good. It's been a lot of fun to explore that topic so far."

Such complex psychological issues will appeal to fans of quality, character-driven drama. But are they willing to watch "Nip/Tuck" prepared to cover their eyes each week during the surgery scenes, or is that asking too much?

In the premiere episode, teenage Matt McNamara felt self-conscious about not having been circumcised and, before having sex with his girlfriend, asked his father to circumcise him. His father refused. This week, Matt takes matters into his own hands in an episode that will be an especially challenging viewing experience for men who tune in.

"If we've done our jobs right, you'll be so engrossed in what the characters are going through that you will tune back every week to see not the surgeries, but the love triangle and what's going to happen with Matt," Murphy said. "Some of the things I've heard about the pilot are it's one of those [things] where you look at it through your fingers and then you come back to the screen. There's almost sort of a watching-a-car-crash-driving-by effect, where you're appalled and you can't believe it happened and yet you're interested."

"Or it's like a great horror movie," added executive producer Greer Shephard. "One of the things we're discovering as we're designing these episodes is that the shocking nature of the surgeries is being supplanted by the shocking behavior of the characters. Hopefully, there will be a passing of the baton where you're almost more fascinated by the perversity of the characters."

Rob Owen can be reached at or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to under TV Forum.

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