Thursday, November 09, 2006

TV Preview: 3 Lbs. - Pilot, "Lost for Words"

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, David Shore and FOX should be sincerely flattered this television season.

First, CBS started the fall with Shark, basically House with lawyers. Tuesday, Nov. 14, at 10 p.m., CBS is launching 3 Lbs., basically House with doctors.

Wait. I see a flaw in that plan.

I tried to evaluate 3 Lbs. without constantly thinking about House, but the show made it very difficult. I admittedly have House on the brain more than a casual viewer, but this show about a brusque, troubled but brilliant neurosurgeon who values medical science over humanity is practically begging for the comparison, down to the CGI of the patients' inner workings.

Fortunately, 3 Lbs. does part ways with the House model in some crucial ways. For one thing, it's not particularly funny. That's not a criticism - while it has lighter moments, it's not trying to be particularly funny. Most importantly, Stanley Tucci's Dr. Doug Hanson, while a central, key character, is not the sun at the centre of the solar system as much as Hugh Laurie's Dr. Gregory House is. The other characters, including Hanson's fellow, the touchy feely Dr. Jonathan Seger (Mark Feuerstein), and neurologist Dr. Adrianne Holland (Indira Varma), do much more than orbit his mass. In the pilot, our point of view follows newbie Seger more than jaded Hanson.

Despite their surface similarities, Hanson is not completely House-like beneath the surface. He's charming when he wants to be, and in this episode, he wants to be more than House has in over two seasons. His demons are nearly literal, too, translated into eerie hallucinations of a little girl that hints at the troubled soul - or damaged brain - underneath the disdain.

The pilot sets up relationships and conflicts that promise a depth and direction for the show all its own. Hanson dismisses the mysteries of the mind as no more than "wires in a box," while his new fellow meditates before surgery and refuses to touch someone's brain unless he knows their soul. I have to say, despite Good Morning Miami, I still have a soft spot for the likeable Feuerstein based largely on his smallish West Wing role, but this much soul searching might start to grate on me. In the pilot, it's poked at as much as pondered on, which bodes well.

The pilot is far from flawless, with some clunky dialogue and one especially odd moment that was probably supposed to be touching, and show us how deeply affected Hanson is by his failures, but it ended up feeling a little creepy when he's confronted by a grateful woman whose brain surgery saved her life but not her sight.

An awkward line about Seger and Holland's sexual chemistry disintegrating when she discovers he has a girlfriend fell flat for me, since I hadn't realized I was supposed to think they had any. But that age-old, will-they-or-won't-they struggle seems to be built into the premise.

There are people who happily watch every incarnation of CSI or Law and Order, which offers some hope that even for those who can't get past the surface similarities, you can't have too many medical dramas about cranky but brilliant doctors. Clever scheduling on CBS's part might help the show feed off House's success, too. 3 Lbs. gets the Tuesday at 10 p.m. slot, starting just as House ends and fans might want to migrate from one medical show to another.

Even though it feels a little too derivative, 3 Lbs. is a well-made, well-acted show, with rich cinematography and creative means of demonstrating the patient's inner world.

But don't take my word for it. If you're in the US, you can watch the pilot online on CBS's Innertube. For those in Canada, you can watch the online commercials there before getting the message saying the content isn't available outside the US, or wait until Nov. 14 to see the show.