Some TV shows get under your skin with lovable characters or subtle writing. Nip/Tuck (FX, Tuesdays, 10 p.m. E.T.) uses a scalpel and liposuction hose. Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) and Sean MacNamara (Dylan Walsh) are wealthy Miami plastic surgeons--the former a seductive bad boy, the latter moral but uptight--and this subtle-as-an-implant drama shies away from neither their work's ethical implications nor its grossness. (Don't fix a snack before watching them carve up a patient's face like a radish rosette.) FX aspires to be the poor man's HBO, and if the bad-cop drama The Shield is its answer to The Sopranos, Nip/Tuck uses a disturbing profession (and stretches basic-cable limits of nudity and language) to explore society and family. Yes, it's Six Millimeters Under.
Creator Ryan Murphy gave us the WB's teen satire Popular, and Nip/Tuck is best when it indulges its gleeful, dark humor about vanity, self-hatred and the essential meatness of the body--as in the pilot's denouement, involving a lipo mishap and several hams. Other times, it veers into pathos. "For 10 years I've been consumed with transforming other people!" Sean screams at Christian during an argument. "Starting today, I'm transforming myself!"
But if Nip/Tuck is melodramatic, the tone is not inappropriate for a show about people whose body ideals have been melodramatized. "I don't want to be pretty," one of Christian's patients (and lovers) tells him. "I want to be better. I want to be perfect." Nip/Tuck is neither pretty nor perfect, but it is a provocative, painfully funny drama--warts and all. --By James Poniewozik