Ryan Murphy, Nip/Tuck's openly gay creator, executive producer, writer and director, sets the tone for the show. Concerning what's coming up in Season 5, Murphy commented, "I think there's a great surprise for the audience in terms of Joely's character, Julia, what she is discovering about herself." Murphy keeps in touch with audience response through the fan-run website niptuckforum.com.
"Roma has really great stuff to do that you wouldn't expect," said Murphy, referring to upcoming complications in the Julia and Olivia story arc. "Everybody this year is very torn by who they were and who they should be."
Part dark comedy, part melodrama, Nip/Tuck's story lines may sound like they've been ripped from the tabloids, but watch closely and the series' attentiveness to the fragile and sometimes bizarre connections between people begin to seem like an up-to-the-minute version of an especially dark Tennessee Williams play.
The actors have absorbed Murphy's dark vision. "I always thought that Liz, being the grounded one, would find true love," Maffia reflected. "And then I thought, 'What am I thinking? This is a Ryan Murphy show. True love is not going to look like what true love looks like to me.'"
The series has received accolades from GLAAD for its consistent record representing LGBT characters, but Nip/Tuck is less a show about LGBT characters than it is a fertile ground for investigating individual transformations — surgical, sexual and otherwise. "Queer" might be the best term to describe the lesbian presence on the show, since its depiction of alternative sexualities doesn't always fit neatly into stable sexual identities.
In Season 2, for example, a prospective patient asks the doctors of McNamara/Troy to give him breast implants so that he can better empathize with his wife, who has undergone a mastectomy for breast cancer. The operation becomes unexpectedly problematic when the wife's attraction to her husband's new breasts raises lesbian desires she thought she had buried.
The show has not limited itself to positive portrayals of lesbians. In keeping with the black comedy that runs through the series, some lesbian characters have veered quite close to stereotype. For instance, in Season 4, a desperate character named James (Jacqueline Bisset) is introduced who meets all the criteria of the sophisticated and predatory lesbian villain.
James runs a high-end escort service as a cover for an organ-napping business. Her behavior is often manipulative and cruel, her actions criminal and exploitative. James is also caught in that most clichéd of circumstances: suffering a sad, unrequited love for one of the straight female escorts in her service.
Still, James is sexy in the way that only actress Jacqueline Bisset can be, and there's certainly pleasure to be had in that. One can appreciate James as a sly portrayal of a lesbian type in keeping with the show's over-the-top themes, or one can see her as a nasty throwback to earlier images of lesbians in pop culture.
This season's upcoming story line concerning the relationship between Julia and Olivia is likely to have lesbians debating the pros and cons of Nip/Tuck's representation of bisexual women as well.
Earlier this year, alleged spoilers for episodes dealing with Julia and Olivia's relationship surfaced on the web, leading to speculation about whether the series would sensationalize their relationship. According to Joely Richardson, who also made time to talk with AfterEllen.com on the set, the rumors are a mischaracterization, although Olivia and Julia are indeed kidnapped during the course of events.
The day of our interview, I spent a good chunk of the morning sandwiched between producer Jennifer Salt and director Charles Haid, marveling at the steep angles of Joely Richardson's cheekbones, before I was called down from those vertiginous heights to talk with her. When we spoke, she had wrapped up her scenes for the week and was getting ready to catch a plane for London.