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Nip/Tuck = Noxious/Television
think the show is kinky enough…I just want to push things even further.” -- Nip/Tuck star Julian McMahon, at the 2007 Television
Critics Association tour (Multichannel News, July 12, 2007)
Nip/Tuck, the FX network’s disgusting “drama” of explicit sex and
graphic gore, began its fifth season on expanded basic cable October 30th.
While the program’s return delighted a handful of smarmy and smug television
critics the overwhelming majority of America’s cable subscribers were once again
forced to subsidize execrable programming that they never watch, and which most
sane people would find offensive.
forget (or have been fortunate enough never to have known), Nip/Tuck is
possibly the vilest, most depraved program ever to air on expanded basic cable.
In its fourth season alone, the show featured the sex-crazed lead character
(oh-so-ironically named “Christian”) having sex with a mother and daughter
simultaneously, and a patient demanding larger testicle implants (September 5,
2006); a woman (played by former Little House on the Prairie star Melissa
Gilbert) who cheats on her husband by having sex with her dog (September 26); a
man copulating with his step-daughter after his wife pays for the daughter to
get breast implants (October 3); Christian’s former lover seducing his
biological son Matt and having a child by him (October 17 and November 7); a
special Christmas-themed episode showing surgeons treating a woman who suffers
from uncontrollable orgasms, as the show’s soundtrack blares “Joy to the World,
the Lord is COME!” (November 28); and Matt making a pornographic movie with his
father’s former lover (December 5).
And in prior
seasons, the program featured such depraved elements as a coroner who sews
together parts from various women’s bodies and attaches his sister’s head so
that he can have incestuous necrophiliac sex with the corpse (October 25, 2005);
a health clinic which uses semen as a facial cream (November 1, 2005); an entire
episode showing the graphic and gory burns and injuries suffered by dozens of
victims of a plane crash (December 6, 2005); a woman whose petrified fetus is
surgically removed and presented to her pickled in a jar (December 13, 2005);
and a season-long plot involving a rapist/serial killer named the Carver – not
to mention teenaged Matt’s experiences having sex with threesomes, transsexuals
and white supremacist bigots; various affairs by the married, divorced and
re-married Sean and Julia; and countless sex scenes involving the smarmy
Christian and his army of lovers .
“Hopefully I have made it
possible for somebody on broadcast television to do a rear-entry scene in three
years. Maybe that will be my legacy.”
– Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy (Bravo network’s TV Revolution,
episode 3, “Sex in the Box,” May 24, 2004)
The fifth season’s premiere
proudly carried on in the spirit of Murphy’s desired “legacy,” featuring copious
nudity, bloody scenes in which a dominatrix has ripped open a man’s surgical
sutures, and a scene in which Christian describes how to make his semen taste
"Pineapple. Makes a man’s shooty-shoot infinitely sweeter. It’s nature's
guarantee of a second date.”
ever-sensitive Ryan Murphy has this conversation take place in front of a young
actor playing Christian’s adopted son. After all, when your program has already
featured group sex, genital mutilation, anal rape, bestiality, necrophilia and
incest, why would the prospect of talking about oral sex in front of a
three-year-old daunt you?
premiere also featured multiple heavy-handed jibes at other aspects of TV
programming, including (the now virtually non-existent) Standards and Practices
divisions, HBO dramas, reality TV and even Nip/Tuck itself. While this
may presage the decline and possible imminent fall of Nip/Tuck – when a
TV show becomes excessively self-referential, it’s an invariable sign that the
show’s creative staff is out of ideas – nevertheless, the harm has been done.
For the greatest
harm done by Nip/Tuck lies not in the program itself – loathsome though
it is – but in the breaking down of barriers which Ryan Murphy so gleefully
desired, and which the show has unfortunately accomplished.
Though programs like The
Sopranos and Nip/Tuck air late at night or on premium cable networks
and attract a limited audience, such programs’ influence is far out of
proportion to their viewership. This is because many of those watching with such
admiration are other entertainment industry insiders, who then feel it incumbent
upon themselves to compete with, or even attempt to outdo, such graphic content
on their own programs. Thus graphically gory, sexually exploitative and profane
cable programs inevitably have a “trickle-down” effect on broadcast television
and on cable programs shown in earlier time slots.
lowers the standards for all
television programming, by creating pressure on other “creative” personnel
working in television to follow its lead. But there is an even more insidious
effect: that of desensitizing viewers to such extreme and graphic content.
In 1993, ABC
showed David Caruso’s naked buttocks during its drama NYPD Blue. Although
this appeared in a ten o'clock program viewed primarily by adults, it set a
precedent. Within a few short years, displaying naked buttocks became
commonplace on television -- so much so that when a character on the short-lived
NBC sitcom Watching Ellie was shown running naked down the hall, on a
program aired at 8:30 p.m., no one even noticed.
Nip/Tuck‘s infamous influence can today be seen in the grossly
sexualized and graphically violent content now shown routinely on such programs
as CBS’ C.S.I. and its spin-offs. Rare is the C.S.I. episode which
does not feature a depiction of some kinky sex fetish, usually entwined with
gory surgery or autopsies. And, in a bid to compete with the profanity
prominently displayed on expanded basic cable, the broadcast networks have sued
the government for the “right” to air any foul language they want, any time they
want, without any limits.
Even after Nip/Tuck‘s
inevitable cancellation, Ryan Murphy and his cable cohorts will be able to rest
in the knowledge that their “legacy” is secure – a legacy that has, and will
continue to, contribute immeasurably to debasing America’s entertainment, and
through it, our children and our culture.
is a thing where some doors have to be pushed open and, once those doors are
pushed open, other people will follow.”
-- Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy, at the 2007 Television Critics Association (Multichannel
News, July 12, 2007)
TV Trends: This column was
compiled from reports by the Parents Television Council’s Analysis staff: Aubree
Bowling, Caroline Schulenburg, Josh Shirlen, Keith White,
and Adam Shuler, under the direction of Dr. John Rattliff.