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Nip/Tuck = Noxious/Television

by Christopher Gildemeister


“I don’t 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.


Lest anyone 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 better:


"Pineapple. Makes a man’s shooty-shoot infinitely sweeter. It’s nature's guarantee of a second date.”


Naturally, the 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?


This season’s 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.


Nip/Tuck 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.


“Television 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.

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