Nip/Tuck never really appealed to me when I first heard about it. Glamorous people giving other people face-jobs, sometimes out of necessity but mostly for vanity - that sounds more like a nightmare than a dream idea of a TV show. Then I started watching it, first by chance and then out of compulsion, finding it to be much more than the just a fake veneer. The characters are deep and complex, the plots elaborate and intriguing and the drama is nothing less than addictive.
The first season introduced us to the two lead characters - Sean McNamara and Christian Troy - who are top plastic surgeons that run an elite clinic in Florida. Aside from their colourful clients, their own lives are far from perfect: Sean is a nice guy with a theoretically loving wife (who has a thing for Christian) and a theoretically happy family (including a troubled son who got involved in a drug-driving hit-and-run). His partner Christian, on the other hand, is a lying, cheating, womanising scoundrel who simply hasn't grown up. Over the course of the season we see the characters evolve slowly but surely, Sean trying hard to come to terms with his own strengths and weaknesses and Christian having to realise the consequences of his frivolous behaviour.
For those who haven't seen the first season, it's worth stopping here and picking it up - you won't be disappointed. Despite some gratuitous but strangely engrossing surgical procedures, it is the drama that keeps you hooked, the flawed characters and the way they deal with problems that we may or may not be familiar with but can often relate to either way. The second season picks up right where the first left off, with Christian playing dad to a child belonging to an ex-girlfriend - and learning that he loves this baby (somebody else's baby) a great deal more than he has ever loved any of his partners - and Sean on solid ground for once in both his home and work life. Of course you know all of this is going to change...
Right from the start we get anxiety all around, with Christian and Gina, the baby's mother, finding it hard to interact (mainly because Christian keeps sleeping with the nannies) and Sean developing a potentially career-ruining tic that the doctors determine is entirely psychological. Obviously thing come to a head and - oddly enough - it is Christian who stands by Sean, putting what he values most dearly in life on the line to help his friend. Afterwards we feel slightly at ease now that the big season starter has run its course, but pretty soon the main story arcs come into play, with a new recurring character being introduced - a life coach to Sean's wife, Julia, who moves her attentions onto the vulnerable teenage son, with dramatic consequences - and a custody battle beginning over Christian's baby. At the same time several opponents emerge, determined to cause havoc in the lives of McNamara-Troy, including an unhappy client who wants to defame them, a disgruntled old surgical colleague who now practices illegal back-room procedures to devastating effect and, worst of all, a serial rapist who leaves his victims with their faces cut open.
It is a great second season that delivers bigger and more shocking stories (main characters undergo broken bones, car crashes, walking through plate glass, being attacked and threatened) but still maintains the same clinical perception into the minds of these characters. Christian may have come a long way by the end of the first season but he has a lot further to go and the second season sees him continue on his evolution even though we are left unclear as to what the third season will hold in store for him. Sean and Julia go through their worst trouble yet, with huge lies and betrayals rearing their ugly heads and threatening to ruin everything they once had.
Of course, as with any successful TV series, the core cast must be tight and well-chosen. Paving the way we have Dylan Walsh as Sean and Julian McManhon as Christian - both ideally suited to their respective roles but, moreover, suited to one another. Without the slightly wimpy but upstanding Sean, we would not tolerate the arrogant behaviour of Christian - and similarly Christian reminds us that charm is not everything and that Sean is the more reliable and upstanding of the two. The actors are simply perfect for these two roles - Walsh permanently visibly anxious and McManhon (who recently played Dr. Doom in the Fantastic Four) oozing equal parts slick charm and slimy falseness. They work convincingly as partners, competitors, opponents, opposite sides to the same coin and basically brothers.
Completing the love triangle that dominated the first season more than the second is the lovely Joely Richardson as Julia McNamara. One of those beautiful British actresses born into the Richardson acting family from mother Vanessa Redgrave, she has enjoyed sporadic TV success but has definitely found a niche playing the vulnerable, flawed but determined wife - desperately struggling with her love for the two men in her life amidst no end of other worries. Aside from these three main characters, there are a couple of faces who can be seen throughout both seasons - John Hensley plays the troubled, immature and foolhardy McNamara son, Matt, who has some serious issues to deal with and Roma Maffia plays the clinic's regular nurse Liz, whose sexuality leaves no end of room for Christian's juvenile digs. Recurring characters include Christian's 'partner' Gina, played with venom by Jessalyn Gilsig, Julia's mother, Erica, played by Joely's real-life mother Vanessa, who despite her age still has that mellifluous voice, Christian's ex, Kimber - brought to life by the cute Kelly Carlson - and the femme fatale ex-Bond girl Famke Janssen as the devious life coach, Ava.
The seconds season of Nip/Tuck has no end of familiar faces, sharp direction, clever storylines, dramatic events, horrific surgery and adventurous bedroom escapades. It all rolls along like a snowball down a hill, gaining weight and momentum with every episode as it spirals towards a shockingly climactic episode and a desperately tense cliff-hanger ending. I cannot wait for more Nip/Tuck and, if you let yourself get swept up in the glossy but far from perfect world these characters inhabit, you might just find yourself hooked too.