When I’m not reading, writing, or trying to earn money like a good monkey should, I’m decompressing with some Grade-A entertainment: Nip/Tuck. I’m not sure this show restores the mind, since it consists of the most pathetic, troubled, shallow, and desperate of humanity. But regardless, I’m invested in this I dare say genius incarnation of the culture of the Beautiful, and I can’t get enough. I’m anxious to get to season 3’s finale.
(Please don’t tell us what happens. Personally, I hope they find Kimber. The Carver kidnapped her. I knew she wouldn’t just leave Christian standing at the altar! She might have a sex doll manufactured in her name and image, but she’s not that shallow!)
It’s gotten so bad that I have had debates with my husband Seth, in which we attempt to redeem some of the characters from their faltering integrity. For example, Sean McNamara is Seth’s “man,” as Seth calls him, but Christian has a special place in my heart, even though he’s a womanizing asshole who makes one girl wear a bag over her head while he nails her from behind. (I know, I know. I am an academic who has been teaching our young people for the past several years, and now I cannot quell my rapacious appetite for such dross!?) “Come on!” I say to Seth. “Christian’s mother disowned him because he’s the product of rape, and he too was abused as a child! He has some serious issues, but deep down he’s a good guy.” He’ll shape up eventually, I think. Seth disagrees: Christian really doesn’t care about anyone. He traded his girlfriend for a car, after all. Well, touchÃ©. Either way, each show overflows with drama: betrayal, violence, arrogance, self-destruction–you know, all the good stuff.
But not all of Nip/Tuck glorifies how diabolical people can be. While the characters trudge through their (mostly self-inflicted) despair, they’re all moving, albeit slowly, toward redemption. Sometimes an entire season passes without reprieve from their suffering, but peace does come. And at first glance, their lives seem wholly unreal: they have good looks, lots of money, nice houses and apartments, business success, and did I mention surreal good looks? On top of that, many of the people who come into Troy-McNamara for plastic surgery either A) already have perfect 10 bodies or B) have serious neuroses inspiring their desires to change. One man wants the doctors to remove his leg because he’s always imagined himself to be without it, and having it causes him great anxiety, makes him feel incomplete. An obese woman decides not to leave her couch and two years later, after sitting in her own filth, her skin fuses with the fibers in the couch, and to get her to the hospital, firemen have to remove a wall in her house and strap her up on a tow truck for transport. Then there’s the question, Who’s the Daddy?, which comes up occasionally and shocks the least on the show next to sex change operations, abounding prejudice, crime, botched suicides, drug trafficking in breast implants, etc….and many, many mid-life crises. Television drama excites us because it depicts the extreme of what could happen to us, but does so in such glitz and hyperbole as to convince us of the otherworldliness of others’ suffering.
But tonight, I had a moment in which I felt, not from the distance of a critic, but from the familiarity of my parents’ home, how real these fictions can be. I went to my folks’ for dinner. The guest list promised an interesting dynamic, I thought. Present were my religious, plastic-surgery-supporting aunt who’s visiting from out of town with her new “country bumpkin” and “innocent” boyfriend, she calls him, who doesn’t drink or overeat and doesn’t like to hear her swear. Her best friend who as been for fifteen years fighting HIV, which she contracted from her unfaithful husband who had been picking up men at the interstate rest area. My conservative father and mother, and myself. Not able to make it was a long-time family friend, who has within the past year decided to undergo a sex change because he has always felt like a woman. He and his teenage daughter, whom I haven’t seen since she was six or seven, were passing through town, but their plans changed and they didn’t make it.
I thought it would make for an interesting evening, and I’m not sure what I was expecting. I guess I was thinking about the layers of deception, trauma, and suppression in everyone’s past. The prejudice, the barriers, the other more private things only those who experience them can understand. But none of that surfaced at all during the meal, and not surprisingly so. We just ate great food and drank wine and had good conversation. I don’t think it would have been much different if our transgender friend had come. Mostly I remember when our families would spend weekends fishing at the lake. My sister would beg him to ride in his (much cooler than my dad’s) bass boat, and I eventually got up the nerve to climb on, too. I remember going on diving trips with him to the Florida Keys and fresh water springs in Florida (one of my favorite family vacations of memory). I recall hearing my father and him talk about being paramedics. I’ve been anxious about seeing him again, as if she would be any different, as though I would be meeting her for the first time. But I imagine we’d probably just talk about the time I got seasick on his boat after I insisted on lying down in the bow while we trekked out to the open ocean over six-foot rollers (it was, like, six a.m. when they made me get on the boat, and I was fourteen).
Shows like Nip/Tuck aren’t entirely unreal. Sometimes they hit closer to home than we would like. But what they’re missing are the moments that occupy what’s probably the larger portion of our time, when we aren’t thinking about all the unbearable times we’ve been through. And the other times, when the parts of us that seem to encompass our identities, at least to strangers, don’t even make the list of topics worthy of dinner conversation.