In the world of entertainment, more is always more, and it appears that “Nip/Tuck” series creator Ryan Murphy agrees.
Murphy’s graphic, sexy plastic surgery drama, which airs Tuesday nights on the FX network, had its season premiere Tuesday night. With the storyline in a slump after last season’s disappointing and fairly improbable finale, it seems that Murphy has seen fit to salt and pepper the tasteless new season with dozens of guest stars and lots and lots of gratuitous sex.
Did I mention the gratuitous sex?
Just minutes after the title music ends, Dr. Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) goes home to have explicit sex with his pregnant wife, and Dr. Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) takes home a mother-and-daughter nympho tag team and has his way with both of them. There were no startling confessions, hard plot twists or any solid dialogue at all. In lieu of the drama promised, audiences received McMahon discussing his penchant for “hair pie” over drinks with his partner. Sex sells, and Murphy knows it.
The crown jewel on the show’s tiara of excess is the addition of Brooke Shields to the cast. Shields, evidently unsatisfied with the recent gossip she has promulgated through her public feud with Tom Cruise, debuts as Christian’s therapist. At first, everything seems normal: Shields tries desperately to act her way out of a plastic bag, and Christian flexes his macho muscles. But by the end of the episode, Shields is bent over her desk, taking it like a champ while Christian pants and grunts his way to the final scene.
Creator Murphy adds other guest stars to bolster the new season’s flimsy plot; in the premiere alone, three big-name stars show up. In addition to Shields, Larry Hagman of “Dallas” fame appears at the episode’s outset, desperate for kiwi-sized testicular implants that will make his package seem more “proportionate” to his apparently gigantic manhood. Kathleen Turner joins to the queue of sexualized clients as an aging phone sex operator hoping to recover her voice from years of smoking Marlboros and guzzling Jack Daniels.
At one time, Murphy’s willingness to push “Nip/Tuck” and its characters to the limits of credibility was what made the show provocative. Since its premiere in 2003, the show has successfully teased the boundary lines of indecency. Women with packets of heroin inside their breast implants, supermodels begging for clitoral reconstructive surgery and a rampaging mutilator known as “The Carver” all made appearances without seeming gimmicky or contrived.
Audiences ate up this kind of absurdity for one reason: It still seemed real, and the two hotshot doctors were still empathetic. But take away the over-the-top sex scenes and all-star lineup of cameos from this season’s premiere and “Nip/Tuck” is just the story of two egomaniacal, bloated surgeons with no redeeming characteristics. If the plot doesn’t shape up, the show will soon join the ranks with the other garbage that is currently clogging up airwaves, TV screens and theaters.
Substituting high-stakes scandal and carnage for content appears to be a trend plaguing not only TV series creators like Murphy, but film directors throughout the industry as well. When Bruckheimer-esque action flicks succumb to paper-thin plots, directors are quick to add in more fatal explosions and lengthy, head-bashing alley fights to fill the two- hour time frame.
Some recent horror flicks like “The Omen” and “The Hills Have Eyes” didn’t hesitate to flash gory montages of saber-toothed demonic children and blood-covered faces across the screen when their stories lacked the proper tension created by well-made films. The audible gasps echoing in theaters were created not by the thrills associated with a good scare, but instead from full-on sensual assaults caused by the grotesque imagery spliced into even the calmest of scenes.
When substance is in short supply, it seems that shock value and sex are easy replacements. This is a disease that preys on creativity, and if directors everywhere fail to take notice, there won’t be anything left to watch. The young doctors on “Grey’s Anatomy” will start coming to work topless, a Carnival cruise ship of guest stars will find themselves shipwrecked on the island of “Lost” and Denis Leary will light himself on fire on “Rescue Me.”
At one time, television shows and movies held audiences captive by creating relatable characters and applying dramatic pressure to carefully crafted storylines. But when audiences don’t care about the characters, all that’s left is bombs, boobs and baloney.