Not All Plastic

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Premiering three years ago, FX’s “Nip/Tuck” caused an enormous splash, thanks mostly to its unrelentingly sexy premise: Randy plastic surgeons, Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) and Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh), run their own private Miami practice while doing their best to screw up their lives. Equal parts soap opera and character-driven drama, it was a hit with fans and critics alike. But what sometimes got lost under the gloss and the oftentimes gratuitous (but never unappreciated) nudity were genuinely affecting characters. After a bumpy third season that featured a too-prolonged plot involving a serial slasher, the emotional core of the show is more pronounced than ever.

The September 5th premiere sets the groundwork for the fourth season with smarmy, sex-crazed Christian in therapy, where questions about his sexuality are raised—at last addressing the barely suppressed homoeroticism that’s infused the entire series. Most subsequent scenes are artfully balanced between comedy (guest star Mario Lopez cheerfully allows the camera and McMahon to ogle him in the shower) and torment.

While Christian grapples with (or avoids grappling with) a rising doubt of his heterosexuality, Sean and his wife, Julia (Joely Richardson), are forced to deal with the physical problems of their unborn child. Toss in a new boss (a slinky Sanaa Lathan) and a son who’s drawn to Scientology (it’s to the show’s credit that they throw words like “theta” around straight-faced), and the season promises to be a little more grounded in reality than the poorly thought-out slasher storyline. It also doesn’t hurt that the exploitation of guest stars’ public personae continues unabated—with Kathleen Turner’s heartbreaking and hilarious cameo stealing the first hour. Her poignant turn as bourbon-voiced phone sex operator Cindy Plumb, who for a voice lift to bring her up an octave from “geriatric bull frog,” is a distillation of everything that works about “Nip/Tuck”: No one involved is afraid of walking the line between satire and sincerity.

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