Sagging stars go for sleazy 'Nip/Tuck'

Posted: Jul 29, 2006 12:01 AM

So what do you do if you're an old and washed-up, or not-so-old, but increasingly forgotten actor anxious to regain the spotlight of celebrity? As a rule, you look to associate yourself with a project that might jump-start your career. It is nice to be asked to participate in a project popular with the public. You jump at the chance for a supporting role in a Steven Spielberg movie. It's even better when the show is the rage of Hollywood itself and generating the all-important "buzz" among Tinseltown's sycophantic critics. If you're desperate enough, you'll latch on to this project, no matter how distasteful it is.

I've seen it. I think of the visit to the home of the actress who was distraught by the filth permeating the world of television, yet two months later took a major supporting role in one of the filthiest series that year. I think of the numerous conversations I had with the comedian who was disgusted by the lack of civility in his industry, but then jumped at the opportunity when Howard Stern's shop called for an interview. I remember the lunch I had with the actress who spoke so eloquently about the need to restore family values to the world of entertainment, and three years later made a national splash by shooting a topless scene in a movie.

They were all serious and honest, but they were also on the downside of once-prominent careers, and ultimately, they were desperate enough to compromise their principles. If it can happen to them, it can happen to just about anyone. In fact, it does. This would explain the seemingly irresistible urge of aging celebrities to align themselves, through guest appearances, with FX's "Nip/Tuck."

The critics absolutely love this program. "'Nip/Tuck's' sheer energy -- its vigor for the vulgar, its delight in decadence, its zest for the zeitgeist -- won me over," raves "Entertainment Weekly." "'Nip/Tuck' remains gorgeously slick (Everything) comes together to form an eerily beautiful TV atmosphere, one that's as coolly futuristic as the show's plots," gushes The Boston Globe. "Dazzling consistently audacious a dizzying complexity," cheers Florida's Palm Beach Post. "Avant-garde pop art ... The show's popularity proves America doesn't have to be the repressed, genital devoid Disneyland for prude-year-olds," declares the Chicago Sun Times. And that's just a sampling.

What's this series delivered in its first three seasons to deserve these accolades?

There's the teenaged character who performs a circumcision on himself, and later engages in three-way sex with two female classmates, and in another episode has a lengthy affair with a middle-aged woman who turns out to be a transsexual who was is also having sex with her teenaged adopted son, who ultimately kills himself. There's another character who is shown having oral, anal and vaginal sex with a doll, imagining he was raping the porn star on whom the doll was based.

There's the morgue worker who saves his dead sister's head to assemble, along with assorted other female body parts, a Frankenstein-like monster with which to have sex. There is the rapist who rapes both women and men (the star gets it anally) and then slashes their faces.

There's the surgeon who, we learn, was born without proper male genitals, has a sister who, like he, is also deformed and was also the product of an incestuous relationship, and so he has an incestuous relationship with her. The main surgeons are more normal. If they're not visiting prostitutes for threesomes, these adults go to college parties to have college girls perform oral sex on them.

Star-dimmed Hollywood celebrities are lining up, eager to be part of this dizzying complexity. Alec Baldwin, Jill Clayburgh and Anne Heche have made guest appearances. Vanessa Redgrave has played the role of a grandmother who, among other things, has sex with one of the surgeons during her daughter's wedding and later smokes pot with her grandson. Joan Rivers has made appearances as a character requiring face-lifts, and last year appeared as herself, offering a testimonial (including a demonstration) for a semen-based facial cream.

This year even more has-beens will participate. Jacqueline Bisset, Brooke Shields and Rosie O'Donnell will be featured. Mario Lopez ("Saved by the Bell") will have a "Brokeback Mountain" shower-scene moment with one of the main characters. Kathleen Turner will play the role of a phone-sex operator who wants a voice lift. Catherine Deneuve's character will have her dead husband's ashes inserted into her breast implants. And 74-year-old Larry Hagman will play a character whose mid-stage prostate cancer has left him in need of larger testicles.

They've all made the industry trade papers now, and presumably are gloriously happy.

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