PASADENA, Calif. -- It's not often you hear the stars of a TV series criticize the show in front of its primary author, but FX's "Nip/Tuck" has never been an ordinary TV show. Graphic and sensational, the series about two Miami plastic surgeons returns for its fourth season at 10 p.m. Sept. 5, and the stars are relieved to be past season three and the story of The Carver, a serial disfigurer.
"It was just sort of gloom and doom. My joke was that we were the only plastic surgeons who should actually wear badges and carry guns, because it felt like a different show for a while," said star Dylan Walsh, who plays Dr. Sean McNamara. "It was a departure. And I think it was great to do that for a season, but when it was done, I did feel relieved."
Series creator Ryan Murphy makes no apologies about season three, but he understands why his stars were dissatisfied.
"When you're doing a show about relationships and then you add a crime element, I did feel at the end that I missed these three people sitting in a room and talking, and I missed them talking about their children and their squabbles," Murphy said. "So, yes, it was a concerted effort to redirect the show back to something that, for me, always was the heart of the show, which is about these three people and this love triangle and how they lived their lives."
To re-focus the show, Murphy said season four will be smaller and more intimate, concentrating on Sean and Julia McNamara (Joely Richardson) and Christian Troy (Julian McMahon). The show will deal more with the established relationships and new problems, including a crisis with the new baby in the McNamara household.
"Last year wasn't my favorite year, I've got to be honest, but this year, it's totally revitalized," McMahon said. "It's exciting to play these characters again, and it's a fun show to watch."
In the season opener McMahon's Christian is challenged by a shrink (guest star Brooke Shields, who will have a recurring role this year) who suggests he may be in love with Sean.
"I've always found Christian a little gay," McMahon said. "Well, certainly a swinger. So I think it's great that we're kind of exploring that side of that."
Also in the first episode, Christian has a three-way sexual escapade with a mother and a daughter (Tracy Scoggins plays the mom) and then tries to butch up his apartment, "then you get the gayest apartment you've ever seen," McMahon said. "Ryan said from the beginning, it was kind of a love affair with two heterosexual men. And this is kind of pushing those boundaries a little bit."
Guest stars this season include Kathleen Turner, as a woman who wants a "voice-lift" ("As you say voice-lift, you think of Kathleen Turner, at least I do," Murphy said), and Catherine Deneuve ("When you think Catherine Deneuve, you think French murderess, at least I do," Murphy said), who plays a woman who wants her husband's cremated ashes put in her breast implants so she can always be close to him.
Richardson grimaced at that storyline and shook her head.