LOS ANGELES – “Nip-Tuck,” FX’s new drama about plastic surgeons, cuts deep in more ways than one.

There are the scenes involving slicing and carving and one memorable liposuction gone wrong in which the fat hits the fan.

Then there are the really big operations, the ones reserved for the hearts and souls of Drs. Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) and Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) and those close to them.

McNamara and Troy are friends and partners who, in the first episode, begin to re-evaluate their work and their lives. McNamara’s wife (Joely Richardson) is caught between the pair and in her own unhappiness.

The cast includes Valerie Cruz, Roma Maffia, Ruth Williamson and John Hensley.

Although wrapped in the gaudy ribbon of plastic surgery, “Nip-Tuck” is an astringent – and at times darkly comic – character study of two men in midlife crisis.

Like another FX drama, “The Shield,” the new series (debuting 10 p.m. EDT Tuesday) traffics in imperfect, even corrupt figures and a bravura, in-your-face style. This is Grand Guignol with a surgical mask.

It’s also an indictment of the false perfection promised by plastic surgery and of the emphasis placed on looks, no matter how much they belie what’s underneath.

Viewers hoping for gratuitous shots of newly busty babes will be disappointed. Those after a summer shot of TV adrenaline, and with a tolerance for authentic-looking surgery, won’t be.

“When I pitched it I said, “This is not a show about happy. This is not a show where the bandages comes off and everything’s fixed,”‘ said series creator Ryan Murphy. “This is a show where the bandages come off and everything’s worse than before.”

Murphy was inspired by a brush with plastic surgery while a newspaper reporter. He had visited a Beverly Hills doctor planning a “snarky” story about such odd developments as calf implants.

But he found himself moved by the patients’ stories and what they hoped for out of surgery – and taken aback when the doctor suggested remaking him.

“I was shocked at how gullible and sold I was that I could fix internal problems with external changes,” said Murphy, who dropped the story idea.

The incident stayed with him when he moved to his new career as a Hollywood writer. After working on the WB series “Popular,” a satire about teenage girls, Murphy wanted a change and a more muscular project.

FX, which had already made its mark with the gritty, Emmy-winning police drama “The Shield,” was ready for another distinctive show that inhabits “a bold world,” said FX Networks President Peter Liguori.

“Clearly the world of plastic surgery is a bold one. It’s fresh territory to mine great drama from, it’s fresh territory for actors to explore,” said Liguori. “What we hope to do with all of our slate is keep pushing the envelope of creativity.”

Greer Shephard and Michael M. Robin, who worked with Murphy on “Popular,” share executive producing duties with him on “Nip-Tuck.”

The series’ timing feels right, said co-star Walsh (“Brooklyn South,” the films “We Were Soldiers,” “Bloodwork,” “Nobody’s Fool”).

“More and more, plastic surgery is on TV, it’s in the vernacular,” Walsh said. “It’s not just in Hollywood, it’s all over. Ten or 15 years ago, it was the exercise craze. It’s an extension of that: “I want to look better. Why go to the gym when I can have it taken care of with a scalpel?”‘

He’s pleased with the show’s complexity, he said. “All the main characters of the show are all compromised, constantly. They’re all fallible, their morals are questionable at all times.”

McMahon (“Profiler,” “Charmed”) also embraced his character, who in the pilot has the corner on sleaze. But the actor was a little slower to warm to his surgical duties.

“Oy, oy, oy,” was his reaction when he first sliced into a realistic-looking dummy. “I’m really kind of queasy. I got nervous hearing the word “doctor.’ I went and saw a couple of surgeries being done, and I just tried to get myself attuned to it.”

Might the graphic scenes keep some viewers at bay?

“I hope it’s not a premise that turns people off watching, because it’s not the show,” McMahon said. “The show is about people and lives. It’s about making choices and the consequences of the choices we make.”

Even Murphy wasn’t prepared for how harsh plastic surgery would look on-screen, he said. (The show also ups the ante with a torture scene in the first episode involving badly misused injections of an anti-wrinkle drug.)

When Murphy objected to how a medical consultant was staging one graphic operation, he was told, “This is how violent these operations are. It’s like surviving a car crash face-first at 50 mph.”

Now he’s adamant about keeping it real.

“This is all about the pain that people go through on several levels – emotionally, psychically, physically – to change their lives, and it’s important I show that.”

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