Halloween is the perfect season for those TV producers seemingly addicted to giving us ghoulish plots all year long. But there is innocent ghoulishness, and there is depravity. At the top of that list is Ryan Murphy.
Murphy is the mastermind of "Nip/Tuck," the noxious FX series about two depraved plastic surgeons, a series so brutal, so graphic and so vile that a prison in Oregon won’t allow the inmates to watch it. It’s the kind of video crud you want to scrape off your shoes with a knife.
You don’t watch this show, so who cares, right? If that’s your perspective, read on and then tell me if you shouldn’t concern yourself about this.
Murphy is the toast of the town in Hollywood these days, the bad boy making headlines tearing down — openly, deliberately and successfully tearing down — any remaining vestiges of taste on the cable television. He was on the record last year declaring he hopes to make "it possible for somebody on broadcast television to do a rear-entry scene in three years. Maybe that can be my legacy."
This year, he’s expanding his artistic vision. He is delivering the most repulsively violent programming ever seen on television. The grotesque Oct. 25 episode had a Halloween-echo title: "Frankenlaura." Here’s Murphy’s plot: A funeral home worker named Silas Prynne saves his dead sister’s head and then sews on body parts from other deceased women to form a complete body. Why? This being a Ryan Murphy show, it is so the worker can have sex with the corpse. It’s necrophilia and incest, put in a blender.
The show’s plastic surgeons are hired by the funeral home to put the pieces back with the appropriate corpses. Desperate for money — and these slimy characters are always desperate for money, to enable another craven plot twist — they agree to take the puzzle of limbs apart. The episode cuts back and forth between Prynne’s memories of caressing his sister’s head and sewing it on to another body, and the surgeons removing it; between Prynne dabbing makeup on the head to a doctor literally yanking the head off the corpse. The gory, gaping wound is shown. The camera focuses on the head as the doctor puts it into a box for cremation. Prynne is shown from before, kissing his sister’s lips and climbing onto the table next to the franken-corpse.
Even the script itself is cringe-inducing in black and white. Naturally, before the cremation can occur, Prynne begs against it in graphic detail for the audience: "I’ve seen the half-melted bodies that need to be repositioned in order to fully burn, the skin scorched off, their abdomens distended like balloons."
The Rupert Murdoch drones at FX have been wildly supportive of his twisted plots, Murphy told an interviewer recently. "I’ve never gotten a note, ‘Could you make somebody more likable? In fact, it’s always the opposite. ‘Can you make them more complex?’ You’re allowed to write anti-heroes."
Murphy’s characters aren’t "anti-heroes." They’re so over the top they’re almost anti-human. The real anti-heroes in this story are the entertainment barons from Murdoch on down to Murphy who peddle these gruesome wares, dazzling the rubes with gore, and enjoy it all in fancy cars and fancy bars without a single scruple.
So back to my question: Why should you care? Because it is you, dear reader, who is making this show possible. Do you subscribe to AOL? Avail yourself to Monster.com? Drink Bud Light, Heineken, Jim Beam, Tanqueray or Bacardi? Do you drive a Toyota, Volkswagen or Mitsubishi? Do you own any Panasonic products? Personally, I can answer in the affirmative more than once. If you’re like me, congratulations. You, too, are making it possible for these corporations to underwrite "Nip/Tuck" with their advertising dollars.
And if you own any stock in these companies, it’s not their advertising dollars. It’s your advertising dollars.
But that’s only half the revenue stream for the FX network and Mr. Murphy. The remainder — millions upon millions — is derived from cable fees. Yes, anyone subscribing to cable is being forced to subsidize this network and this dreadful show, whether he watches it or not. That means you again, doesn’t it?
According to the Nielsen ratings, our investment has reaped interesting market penetrations. It’s viewed weekly by some 162,000 teenagers. And in the 2-11 age group it has the loyalty of another 55,000 viewers. Congratulations, FX network. Congratulations, Murdoch and Murphy. Congratulations, you and me.