Skin Heads

Cover-Up: Dylan Walsh, Vivian Thibes, and Julian McMahon in the FX series Nip/Tuck. Photo: Robert Zuckerman

By the end of the 90-minute pilot of Nip/Tuck (Tuesdays, starting July 22; 10 to 11:30 p.m.; FX), Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) and Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) have renewed their vows. Buddies since medical school, where both loved the same woman, partners in a plastic-surgery practice in South Beach, Miami, where people who hate their bodies clamor for a knife, but otherwise opposites in almost every important way, from goals to ethics to temperament, they will somehow survive a week so fraught you’d think they were stuck in a big-screen sequel instead of a television cut-and-paste.

For instance: At the very moment when Sean, who could be William H. Macy’s kid brother, has begun to wonder why he never has time for, say, pro bono graft work on burn victims because he is invariably committed to another high-priced butt trim or tummy tuck, his stay-at-home wife, Joely Richardson, longs for bigger breasts, and his teenage son, John Hensley, wants to be circumcised. Meanwhile, swinging bachelor Christian, who has the negligent charm and requisite sleaze of a bankrupt European princeling, who is not above using his romantic encounters to recruit new patients for vanity surgery, and who has named his luxury watercraft Boatox, agrees for a truly obscene amount of money to reconfigure a Latin American drug lord on the lam. When it turns out that this slimeball is guilty of something much worse than lording drugs, half of South Beach is suddenly on the lam, everybody speaks Spanish except Sean, at least one of them will be tortured, and the alligators get a mouthful.

Nip/Tuck is the satiric brainchild of Ryan Murphy, who earlier gave us Popular. As he was then, he is assisted now by executive producers Greer Shephard and Michael M. Robin. The writers and directors are mostly veterans of quality series television. For the next three episodes, we are promised identical twins who would rather look different, a surgical instrument left behind inside a post-op patient, anger-management classes to deal with unresolved gerbil issues, a porn star, and a transvestite. In other words, the usual. Have I mentioned Roma Maffia? She’s the anesthesiologist, who would run for the hills if there were any. Valerie Cruz will appear next week as the gorgeous shrink the guys hire to screen out crazies. There is almost as much violence as there is sex, not to mention unsaturated fats. As dramatic series on FX go, this isn’t quite the head-smack that The Shield was, but compared to summer television on the networks, it’s at least in the vicinity of St. Elsewhere, and compared to Banzai on Fox, it’s The Magic Mountain.

Moreover, we have to be impressed with the way things seem to work out in the brave new world of bioengineering. No matter how much damage we do to ourselves through the mutilation of our bodies by nose jobs or nipple rings or penile implants, the fashion industry and its affiliated bootlickers are available 24/7 to either cover up the wound or fetishize it.

In the second hour of a domestic-spy series from the BBC and A&E, MI-5 (Tuesdays, starting July 22; 10 to 11 p.m.; A&E), a personable young woman whom we have just begun to like, one of the good guys gone undercover after the bad guys, will get her lovely face fried off in a vat of boiling fat, after which, maybe mercifully, she’s shot to death. I divulge this incidental plot detail because it was as shocking as it is gratuitous. Although these high-tech super-sleuths, who answer only to the Home Office in their exertions to ensure the security of Great Blairland, must wage holy war against anti-abortionists with a hit list of doctors, white-racist militias with a hit list of coppers, IRA Provisionals with a hit list of tube stations, and Mideast terrorists with a grudge against a nuclear-power plant, their work for the most part ought to be cerebral, a frenzy of surveilling and computing. But MI-5 needs to make sure that we are paying serious attention to its shadow world. So it sticks a finger in our eye.

Fair enough. They are, these men and women, a hermetic cult. Gray-faced from all the secrets they have swallowed, they come down from their office mountain into the wounds of the world like the original hashish-eating assassins of eleventh-century Persia. They are more interesting to watch than their counterparts were in The Agency because they don’t really care if we like them.

The Flute Player (July 22; 10 to 11 p.m.; Channel 13) follows Arn Chorn-Pond, who was 9 years old when the Khmer Rouge murdered not only most of his family of artists and musicians but the culture of Cambodia, too, from a labor camp to the jungle to Thailand to Massachusetts, after his adoption by an American relief worker, from which, with his flute, he returns to Cambodia to teach the traditional music Pol Pot failed to kill. A remarkable installment of P.O.V.

The FBI (July 23; 8 to 9 p.m.; Channel 13) is what happens when the Bureau opens its doors and invites National Geographic’s cameras in to see them swear in new agents, monitor Al Qaeda sleeper cells, profile serial killers, and prepare to brief the president.

Undefeated (July 26; 8 to 9:45 p.m.; HBO), directed by John Leguizamo, stars him as an amateur boxer from Jackson Heights who goes pro and loses his neighborhood soul. We have seen this before, a hundred times. Still, the performances—by Clifton Collins Jr., Omar Benson Miller, Nestor Serrano, and the sultry Vanessa Ferlito, as well as the always impressive Leguizamo—keep us watching. And the narrative of upward mobility, by organized sport or labor or crime or religion, is the story America has told itself from the very beginning.

Singing in the Shadow: The Children of Rock Royalty (July 27; 9 to 11 p.m.; Bravo) presumes our interest in the performing spawn of John Lennon, Phil Collins, Aretha Franklin, Arlo Guthrie, David Crosby, James Taylor and Carly Simon, the Osbournes, etc.

The Designing Women Reunion (July 28; 8 to 9:30 p.m.; Lifetime) brings back Delta Burke, Dixie Carter, Annie Potts, Jean Smart, and Meshach Taylor to reminisce, chuckle over outtakes, and remind us of just how sharp the Bloodworth-Thomason series was.

The Three Pickers: Legends of American Music (July 28; 10 to 11 p.m.; Channel 13) drops in on the R. J. Reynolds Auditorium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for a down-home edition of Great Performances featuring bluegrass nonpareils Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, and Ricky Skaggs. But don’t miss guest star Alison Krauss, whose fiddling burns my Rome.

Skin Heads