Friday, April 08, 2005


A few days ago I finished watching Nip/Tuck season two. Over break I had watched season one and I really enjoyed it, but I felt like the series never made the jump from addictive and good to really great work of art, and season two left me wondering if it could do that.

When it comes to TV shows, most of the stuff I'm a fan of is really continuous, and largely dependent on character relationships for the drama. Another notable aspect of most of these shows is that pretty much every character has something awful happen to them at some point along the way, for this is the stuff that drama is made of. But, the thing that separates the best TV shows from ones that are merely good is whether plot arcs have real consequences, or whether everything functions on sort of a loop, where storylines will happen, but eventually, we will always find ourselves back roughly where we started.

So, the difference boils down to whether the show has some sort of overall purpose, one massive story it is telling that snakes through all the years, or whether events arbitrarily occur because there needs to be another season. Looking at the two magnum opuses of television, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Sopranos, you can see that even though there are heavy soap opera elements, and a strong stress on character problems(which I love) there are also overarching character and plot arcs that
keep the series moving forward. So, whereas Sean's depression on Nip/Tuck is treated as something he has to get over and move on from, in season six, Buffy's depression profoundly changes her character, and doesn't seem gimmicky at all. Sean, you don't get the sense that what happened here will have a huge effect on him down the line, whereas Buffy's depression has major consequences. It marks the nadir of Buffy's life, before she is reborn and reinvigorated in season seven.

In The Sopranos, we see characters going through huge, irrevocable changes that develop out of the story organically, rather than being forced on them due to the need to keep things happening. Tony and Carmela's separation in season five feels warranted and clearly has major consequences for the characters. When Sean and Julia split up on Nip/Tuck, you get the feeling that it's just a temporary thing, because the same exact story was done in season one. There's no sense of forward progression, and the storyline doesn't come out of character actions.

I think that's the primary difference, on Nip/Tuck or The OC, external forces are the primary drive behind narrative events. On the best shows, it's the characters themselves who create the stories. I'd consider Buffy season six the pinnacle of television storytelling and here, everything is character based. Buffy's depression leads her to a relationship with Spike, Willow's abuse of magic leads to her breakup with Tara, Xander's fear is what leads to him breaking off the wedding with Anya. These events grow out of long held character flaws. That's a big part of it too, making characters flawed, by doing this you create the potential for great drama.
The Sopranos has very morally ambiguous characters, who are always stuck between doing what is in their best interests and doing what is morally right.

A show like Six Feet Under sort of walks the line. We know that Nate will always wind up back with Brenda and that David will always end up with Keith, but the show is so well written, it never feels like a loop. Even though the relationships may stick, the characters end up changing a lot. Plus, the production values and artistry behind the show are so good, it's on an entirely different level than most other shows.

So, that brings us to Nip/Tuck season two. I find the show extremely entertaining, and at the end of each episode, I'm always wishing there was a little bit more. That said, as much as I love the show, there is very little of the artistic value that the best TV shows have. There's countless things you could write about on Buffy or The Sopranos, or even Cowboy Bebop or The Office have really deep thematic and character
development. Nip/Tuck basically riffs on the relationship between outward appearance and the inner self, and then throws on a bunch of character problems with that.

My favorite episode of the year was the alternate universe Julia episode. Alternate universe episodes, such as Buffy's The Wish, are always entertaining, even though they may not actually have that much substance. The episode I would most closely equate this with is 'Perfect Circles,' the Six Feet Under third season premiere, which saw Nate wandering through a myriad of parallel universes, observing different versions of himself. What elevated that episode above the Julia episode is that the worlds he saw were a reflection of the character's fears about his place in the
world. Notably, in the world where he is mentally damaged after the accident and is trying to speak again with David's help. It really plays on his sense of mortality, and there's a sense of danger throughout.

Julia's is more of a tour through another world, observing with an interested but not particularly invested eye. That said, it was all very entertaining, I loved Kimber in the episode, and her looking at Julia as she and Christian had sex. I liked the cocaine driven lifestyle of excess she and Christian have, something that's always entertaining to watch, as was the return of Meagan O'Hara and Jude from season one. The show has an admirably deep memory in some cases. The best scenes were in the
'netherworld' where Ava and Julia talk, most notably the end of the episode where Julia floats through a white void, passing everyone in her life, while being drawn to Ava. 'You Can't Always Get what You Want' worked really well with the scene, and just the image of Ava drawing Julia to her death was great. That's an example of the purely symbolic visual storytelling that a TV show can allow. Because we know and are invested in these characters, we can understand exactly what's going on, without
dialogue. Just like the last episode of Twin Peaks or Buffy's Restless, the set narrative universe allows for a move away from traditional storytelling, while still doing things that are relevant to character development.

So, that episode was great, as was the journey of Kimber. Back in season one, Kimber and Christian had a relationship that ended with her tying him to the bed and threatening him with a knife. But, upon her return in season two we see a new Kimber. The first episode she was in, the one that ended with the reveal that she was now starring in porn was pretty shocking, and I was eager to see where she went from there. This led to the great episode where she gives Sean the 'realdoll' of her, and
eventually they get together. The thing I really liked about Kimber was the fact that, post cocaine binge, she seemed to be the only character who had things together and knew where she was going in life, and at the end of the season when we see her directing a porn, we get a sense of how far she has come. She's the only character in this season who went through things that irrevocably change her. Christian and Sean have the same basic conflicts, but she has moved on and become a better person.

The fact that her development stands out so much reflects poorly on the show. Sean and Christian have basically the same character conflicts they did in season one, and both go through essentially the same arc. Because of this essential loop, the show is good, but it's not quite great. Still, I loved watching it, and can't wait for season three.