It’s more graphic than ever – visually, verbally, viscerally. And yes, you sometimes can cut the tension with a knife.

Affixed with a heavy-duty TV-MA advisory, FX’s “Nip/Tuck” is back for an extended 16-episode second season. The rating supposedly will be flashed for 20 seconds out of each commercial break for those viewers who somehow might think they’re joining “Bozo’s Circus” in progress.

Be forewarned. “Nip/Tuck” shows no signs of policing itself in deference to Janet Jackson’s infamous Super Bowl baring. On the contrary, it pushes the limits of advertiser-supported cable to the point of sometimes seeming like a soft-core skin flick.

Unadorned behinds are in full bloom during the first three episodes, with Julian McMahon’s sex-obsessed Dr. Christian Troy leading the way, so to speak. The language likewise can be jaw dropping and the cosmetic surgical procedures remain bloody awful to behold. There’s also the sight of a sickened Christian spitting out a big mouthful of breast milk in the early minutes of Tuesday’s premiere.

Had enough? Or want more? “Nip/Tuck” still can be gripping, gratifying drama when it’s not trying so hard to be either salacious or capital-Q quirky. But it’s not off to the great start of last summer despite the presence of esteemed thespian Vanessa Redgrave in the second season’s initial three episodes.

Her first words are, “I want a facelift.” But of course.

Redgrave is the real-life mother of series co-star Joely Richardson. They’re mother-daughter here, too, with Redgrave in full sneer as child psychologist Erica Noughton, a best-selling author who bedevils the psyche of Richardson’s Julia McNamara.

Julia’s marriage to angst-prone Dr. Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) is on better footing even if she still has to fake sexual satisfaction. Their teenage son, Matt (John Hensley), again is striving to find himself, while kid daughter Annie is barely mentioned and nowhere to be seen.

Dr. Troy has a son, too, a baby boy named Wilbur. He’s not the biological father but has a paternal tie to the kid via a grossly dysfunctional relationship with banshee Gina Russo (Jessalyn Gilsig).

This doesn’t deter Christian’s bed-hopping but does make him somewhat endearing during some heartfelt quality moments with the little guy.

“Nip/Tuck” still utilizes its trademark weekly directive – “Tell me what you don’t like about yourself.” But it no longer operates in a relatively unique field, given the new wave of makeover shows infesting the “reality” show genre. This perhaps has caused “Nip/Tuck’s” scriptwriters to reach too far for the bizarre.

For starters, Drs. Troy and McNamara are tasked with reconfiguring a woman whose face looks like a grade-schooler’s imitation of a Picasso painting. She wasn’t born this way. Instead her new look is courtesy of a double-suicide pact that went awry when her gay male companion fired a pistol at her head while she couldn’t bring herself to simultaneously follow suit. Hate when that happens.

Complicating matters is Dr. McNamara’s new, severe case of psychologically induced jitters. It’s good to have a rock-steady hand when slicing in proximity to a private part or through your mother-in-law’s face.

Not only that, he’s just turned 40 and probably is worried that only CBS will want him as a viewer. Dr. Troy fans his insecurities by trying to gift him with a Botox injection. After all, “Looking our age is as bad as having a stained carpet in the waiting room.”

The second episode finds Dr. Troy traumatized by a broken nose he sustains pleasuring a lover who abruptly sneezes.

Watching him try to operate on himself is going to be way too much for some viewers. But that’s only a warm-up for the cringe-inducing remedial procedure that follows.

Meanwhile, haughty Erica has a nicely healing facelift while her relationship with daughter Julia remains an open wound. Unfortunately, the writers shortchange Redgrave’s character, even after a “life coach” (shades of Fox’s “The Swan”) describes mommy dearest thusly: “She’s a vampire. She’s attached herself to your neck and she’s sucking the lifeblood out of you.”

Such a description demands a command showdown. But Episode 3’s anticipated mother-daughter bout is a bit of a letdown instead of the roaring fire it should have been.

Not that “Nip/Tuck” still isn’t watchable. But these early episodes too often are unseemingly voyeuristic.

All that bumping and grinding, cutting and gutting. Let’s find a happier medium without losing the show’s lifeblood.



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