31 Pilots in 31 Days: nip/tuck

When it was originally on: 2003-2010

Original network: FX

Where you can stream it now: Hulu

Had I seen it before: No.

What IMDb says: The dark and twisted trials of two plastic surgeons.

Why I picked it: I love including work from people who have established themselves as top television creators and have their own following that’s bigger than any one show. Ryan Murphy is one such name, and nip/tuck is the show he made before he became Ryan Murphy. I’m curious to see if nip/tuck feels different from more recent Murphy shows after he earned himself more creative freedom, or was Murphy’s authorial voice already strong and defined all the way back in 2003?

I also love examining shows from a TV channel’s early era, when it’s still finding itself. nip/tuck is only the 2nd original series FX ever made, after The Shield. FX went on to establish itself as a key player in the rise of prestige tv, such a key player in fact that many of its subsequent shows overshadow the success of nip/tuck. All this is to say, nip/tuck burst on the scene before we really knew what to expect from Ryan Murphy or FX, but something about this show helped put both on the map in a pretty major way.

What I liked: It’s fairly difficult for a pilot to be both a) a typical case-of-the-week procedural and b) give us a lot of great insight into our characters’ personal lives and the drama that might ensure throughout longer arcs. nip/tuck is one of the better examples of such a pilot that I’ve seen. On one hand, we have Christian accepting money from a man who’s hiding from a cartel boss in exchange for extensive surgery. Without going through all the details, that plot proves to be a fun rollercoaster ride that hits all its marks and would’ve made for pretty great television even if it was the only plot here.

We also learn that while Christian is a bachelor who seduces already-attractive people and then sells surgery to them, his partner is a family man who questions the ethics of vanity plastic surgeries. He’s struggling with a lot of typical problems you see middle aged men deal with on television: his wife and kids don’t understand or appreciate him, all that jazz. We also have off-the-charts sexual tension happening between Sean’s wife and his bad boy surgery partner, so there’s that. There’s a lot of great stuff happening over on this side of the pilot too even if we didn’t have that rollercoaster drug cartel plastic surgery case of the week.

Through everything, Murphy never loses focus of what’s really important: the central relationship between these two doctors. Each layer of plot exposes a new facet of the Sean/Christian dynamic. These two have been friends since at least college, maybe earlier. They’ve always dreamed of having this practice together. Fast forward and Sean has grown disillusioned by the industry, whereas Christian has no problem with plastic surgery, as well as numerous other things of questionable morality. To make things more interesting, we also see that Christian isn’t really that good at plastic surgery, and relies on Sean’s superior surgery skills to cover for him. Meanwhile Christian is a smooth talker who gets customers and money in the door, and as much as Sean doesn’t like it… Sean kind of needs Christian in some ways. The ending of this also means that Christian and Sean now share a dark secret, and it’s not going to be easy for Sean to just leave if Christian has this dirt on him.

Ultimately, this sets up a central pair that is likely going to butt heads in every single episode, oftentimes over important, high stakes issues, yet I won’t just say “why doesn’t one of them leave?!?!” And that’s a recipe for TV magic, particularly for what seems to be a more episodic show.

What I didn’t like: There’s a scene where a desperate mother asks Sean to perform a skin graft for her severely burnt son and then goes on a little. It’s a moment that serves Sean’s character arc well, but was over the top and melodramatic enough to feel out of step with the rest of the episode. That’s one brief moment though… quite forgivable.

Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Kind of? It seems like a nice balance of fast-paced fun, dark depravity that Murphy is known for, and some interesting characters and stories.


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