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Classic Television Rundown: Nip/Tuck, Season One, Episode 4, "Sofia Lopez"

Nip/Tuck Season One, Episode Four: "Sofia Lopez"
Written by Sean Jablonski & Ryan Murphy
Directed by Michael M. Robin
"Real men want sons to be more than they are, not carbon copies." -Julia, to Christian
I am honestly not quite sure if I will ever give a Nip/Tuck episode a solid A grade. And the reason for that, very simply, is Sean McNamara. He's not only the worst character, he's arguably the character that Murphy continues to insist as our protagonist, when there's really no reason for it other than the man is a masochist and knows as long as there's wonderful supporting character that we'll keep watching, even if every scene Sean's in just makes us long for another Christian or Matt or Julia scene. And I get the whole anti-hero disguised as a straight man thing. Tony Soprano is a terrible person disguised as a likable middle-of-the-road mobster when compared to his compatriots. Nate Fisher is an egotistical jackwad but the centralized "normal" one in a family of misfits.

But the big difference here is that Tony and Nate go through multi-episode arcs of changing and reverting back to their awful selves, whereas Murphy (at least toward the beginning of the series) is too worried about making sure Sean goes back to his annoying charitably-minded-but-really-just-self-satisfying persona by the end of every episode. That said, while this dilemma is particularly prevalent in "Sofia Lopez", and in some scenes so on-the-nose it's painful to watch, there are so many brilliant supporting character moments that this is the first Nip/Tuck episode that I've considered giving an A in my nostalgic retread of the series' first couple seasons. Christian's duplicitous soul is becoming more and more nuanced and real, Matt's emotional adolescence is becoming more than just a gimmicky sideshow, and Julia finally is given enough screen time to come to life vividly and complexly through her actions and behaviors, not her reactions and freak-outs.

It all starts with Christian's trip to the luxury car dealership where he tries to negotiate some fake breasts for the girlfriend of his buddy and salesman Ron (played by Mark D. Espinoza aka Jesse from the original 90210) if he lets him drive off the lot with a disgustingly yellow Lamborghini. Enter recurring character numero uno in the form of a billboard: Dr. Merril Bobolit (played by Joey Slotnick aka Jonathan Silverman's friend in The Single Guy). Like Fitzgerald's Dr. TJ Eckleburg, Merril gazes down with an omniscient smirk at Christian as Ron tells him his girlfriend already has a pair of double D's from that guy up there. In Merril Christian suddenly has not only a rival but a temptress, as we see him at first make fun of Merril as he runs into him at a party for porn industry tycoons and actors, but then soon seduced when he is offered a partnership with the man. After all, he's not the fighting type. He just wants a good surgeon to help him out with the way too demanding flow of hardbodies that come in looking for a nip here or a tuck there. Plus, then he wouldn't have to deal with Sean 24/7.

The offer is so attractive that even though Sean's been with him through thick and thin as a brother-esque BFF, Christian can't deny that change is alluring, especially in the more libidinous direction. And when Sean once again is a stick-in-the-mud and doesn't want to invite the porn exec's girls into their practice because it would tarnish the new classier image they've been trying to cultivate with pro bonos and psychologically-sound image alterations, Christian is tempted even further with the idea. On top of this, which is interesting enough, especially when looking at the terminally flawed logic of Sean, who seems to not be able to come to grips with the fact that he is a plastic surgeon in Miami and that not only cleft pallette patients exist in a glamor-obsessed American metropolis, we also get the real deal introduction of Christian acting as a father figure to Matt while Sean is too obsessed with his identity/mid-life crisis.

So remember that porn party mentioned earlier? Well Christian brings Matt because, well, he wants to impress him and has a strange fixation on being the one responsible for helping Matt break his cherry. First a prostie and now a porn star - now THAT'S a real dad! Right? Well, yes, it's goofy, but Christian is very much stuck in one of Piaget's stages but plays it all off as just "confidence and romance" as he tells Sean, because that's really what all women are craving, and if he can pass this on to Matt (obviously Sean's a lost cause), then maybe he'll finally believe that old silly mantra he keeps hanging on because while it's never landed him a real relationship, it's at least gotten him some hot one night stands.

But of course Matt gets an STD from a fluffer who has a nervous tic with her mouth and just happens to be conversing awkwardly with Matt when she gets done with her lollipop. Yes she's in school girl outfit and yes her hair is in pigtails. Murphy may be clever, but he's certainly not original. In that same line of thought, we of course wind up with Matt saying no to Christian's next attempt at fatherhood-via-boyhood-wish-fulfillment when he shows up with his yellow Lamborghini at school trying to coax the boy to some truancy while riding in style on the freeway. You see, Matt has matured and Christian has not, and that in turn makes Christian want to mature. It sounds cheesy, and it certainly looks it with that garish car and some bad green screen work to make it look like they're oceanside, but Julian McMahon rules at this wait-I-forgot-I'm-an-adult shtick, so it's actually quite emotionally valid and we end up excited for any future scenes featuring Christian attempting to grow up, because his journey is honest, whereas Sean's is a mess.

Speaking of Sean, we should probably mention how 1) he almost ruined the episode and 2) also kind of saved it. Firstly, the titular character (pictured above), who is our recurring character numero dos, is a transgender woman looking for someone, anyone who will not judge her for her wish for gender reassignment, but rather help her, and well what a surprise that Sean's a bigoted dick to her at first but soon blossoms to understand that even though she looks different, she's a real person with real emotions and real family members and friends who love her. This whole thing is obnoxiously simplified, but I at least appreciate that transgender issues are getting talked about, because besides Nip/Tuck, they probably weren't elsewhere on TV until that point.

What works better, however, are his scenes with Julia, where he dumbly attempts to "have unconventional sex" with her the first day of her first semester back at college and then tries to make up for the bad maneuver with take-out Indian food disguised as a home-cooked meal when she ends up coming home with a study buddy (new recurring character numero trois, Jude) and just wants to cram for her first test. And when Julia's stress with Sean is channeled into an awesome verbal explosion with Christian, as the two of them try to deal with Matt's STD without Sean getting involved, it becomes clear that Sean, while a complete mess of a character, is necessary to the balance of this show, and Sean haters like myself have to simply resign themselves to that fact.

And finally (I promise), there's also an awesome scene with Sean confronting his former teacher and should-be-retired practicing doctor Marcus, where he gets a Dickensian look at what his future could be if he ends up focusing on helping others rather than himself for the rest of his life. This is ultimately why it still gets the A(-), because while Sean's often a chore and a bore, Murphy knows how to use that tension between the viewer and his characters to turn it into something exciting and meaningful for the characters we can sympathize with. At least for now. I don't clearly remember, but I think this is where Nip/Tuck finally starts flying and giving us both a healthy does of tender and WTF moments that made the first two seasons of the show worth going back to in the first place.

Grade: A-

Other memorable quotes:
  • "Erotic films are when you use a feather; porn films are when you use the whole chicken." -Sean
  • "The truth is, doctor, that I don't care if you like me or if you don't. What I care about is feeling complete." -Sofia
  • "I am gonna shmooze with some cooze and land us an exclusive contract." -Christian
  • "Merril, you look like a cu-tip." -Christian's first words to Merril, getting the elephant out of the room right away about actor Joey Slotnick's ridiculous hair
  • "You gotta have a gimmick. That's why I'm always sucking on something." -Unnamed Fluffer at the porn party, to Matt
  • "The line that divides the plastic surgery industry and the porn industry is a thin one. We're both selling fantasy." -Christian
  • "You sit around with your diplomas and your thoughts of people whose lives you've saved but your own, and you drink." -Marcus
  • "This car tells the whole world what you've become." -Ron, to Christian, who replies, "That's why I'm returning it."

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