LOS ANGELES – The two men in crimson scrubs and rubber gloves are having a bit of a squabble.
“I’ll run lead, you’ll assist,” pronounces Dr. Sean McNamara.
“No, there’s media. I’m co-lead … I’ll be stepping up with you to any microphones,” Dr. Christian Troy snaps back.
“You want to take this outside,” snarls an enraged McNamara.
“Love to,” sneers Troy.
Behind them on an operating table lie comatose conjoined twins, surrounded by a team of doctors appalled by the plastic surgeons’ untimely bickering.
“Nip/Tuck” is back, and more outrageous than ever. The FX series about the two ethically challenged surgeons, portrayed by Dylan Walsh as McNamara and Julian McMahon as Troy, begins its second season at 10 p.m. Tuesday.
Creator Ryan Murphy says this season will be “more emotional,” the surgeries “more expensive” and the guest stars “higher profile.” Vanessa Redgrave appears in the premiere episode playing the mother of McNamara’s estranged wife, played by Redgrave’s daughter, Joely Richardson.
“Our show is a tone piece. It’s pushing the envelope and yet walking a line of drama that I think is very responsible,” Murphy said. “People have said – and I agree – that every one of our episodes feels like a little independent movie.”
The episode filming this day at Paramount Studios provides a metaphor for the theme that underscores the entire new season: Can the doctors’ contentious partnership survive?
Crainopagus (joined at the head) twins, 42-year-old Lori and Reba Schappell, portray conjoined twins Rose and Raven Rosenberg.
Lying on an L-shaped operating table, Lori as Rose whispers to her sister, “I’m afraid. Sing to me,” as they wait for the anesthetic to kick in. Reba as Raven softly croons, ” … gonna buy you a mockingbird … “
The twins’ performance drew applause from cast and crew. Then they were replaced on the operating table by prosthetic figures created from casts of their bodies.
Although the series takes dramatic license, technical adviser Linda Klein, a registered nurse, is meticulous that the operations look authentic.
For this episode she consulted Dr James Bradley, associate professor of plastic surgery at UCLA Medical Center, part of the team that successfully separated the conjoined Alvarez twins from Guatemala in August 2002.
“They seem to usually have bizarre surroundings to the surgeries, but the surgeries for the most part are accurate,” Bradley said. “The technical aspect is thought out well, based in fact and reality. The story line, that’s the creativity of the writers, not something that we get into.”
Bradley’s aware that “Nip/Tuck” has attracted its share of criticism from plastic surgeons concerned about the ethics of the show’s doctor characters. However, he says there’s greater concern among his peers about reality shows such as Fox’s “The Swan” or ABC’s “Extreme Makeover” that make it seem “these long complicated operations are a walk in the park, rather than serious surgery.”
“Nip/Tuck” certainly doesn’t make cosmetic surgery look as neat and nifty as the show’s title suggests.
“I feel a moral responsibility to show what the suffering is. I don’t want to glamorize it,” Murphy said. “I used to think that plastic surgeons treated faces like pieces of porcelain. What I’ve come to realize is they actually treat them like pieces of sirloin.”