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With the official start of the 2006-07 season less than three months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month or so previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at one of the 39 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.
There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entry:
3 LBS. (CBS)
(TBA at midseason)
The network's description: "Additionally, the network announced the pick-up of four shows for mid-season, including the Monday night stalwart THE KING OF QUEENS as well as two new dramas and one new comedy. They include 3 LBS, starring Stanley Tucci in a medical drama about New York neurosurgeons; WATERFRONT, a drama about a colorful mayor in Providence, R.I. starring Joe Pantoliano; and RULES OF ENGAGEMENT, a comedy starring Patrick Warburton ("Seinfeld") from Adam Sandler's production company that follows two couples and a single guy as they navigate the jungles of dating, engagement and marriage."
What did they leave out: "3 Lbs." was originally developed last season with a different cast - including Dylan McDermott in the Stanley Tucci role, Reiko Aylesworth in the Indira Varma role and Lorraine Toussaint in the Tamara Taylor role - with only Mark Feuerstein and Armando Riesco reprising their roles. Several other aspects of the pilot were also revamped while Davis Guggenheim took over directing duties from Barry Levinson.
The plot in a nutshell: A young girl falls ill in the middle of a violin recital - we see something go wrong in her brain "House" style - prompting a visit to legendary brain surgeon Dr. Douglas Hanson (Stanley Tucci). Coincidentally, said visit also marks the first day of Dr. Jonathan Singer (Mark Feuerstein), whom we're told is the latest in a long line of neurologists that probably won't make it under Hanson. He's shown the ropes by Della (Tamara Taylor), Hanson's assistant, who gives him the tour of their high-tech facility, which includes a "phone booth"-esque room in which doctors can surround themselves with scans of a patient's brain. We also meet Dr. Adrianne Holland (Indira Varma), who focuses on unlocking the brain's more elusive qualities - including a patient ("The Unit's" Ron Cheals) who's slowly losing the ability the distinguish objects by touch - and Dr. Tom Flores (Armando Riesco), a wisecracking doctor responsible for closing Hanson's patients in surgery. From here it's not long before Hanson and Singer's ideological divide is established - Hanson is cold and calculating, viewing the brain as a bunch of "wires in a box" while Singer is warm and emotional, viewing the brain as the soul's home. Nevertheless, together they try to diagnose the girl, who now seems to be losing the ability to speak (a fact illustrated by several very cool, surrealistic dream sequences). Hanson proposes a risky operation, which - in no small part due to his stand-offish bedside manner - doesn't sit well with the girl's mother (Julia Campbell) while a rival doctor (Griffin Dunne) tries to sway Singer into letting him try an experimental non-invasive procedure. Further complicating things - Hanson himself is starting to have some small hallucinations (water running backwards, images of a young girl, etc.) forcing him to diagnose himself in secret. In any case, the mother opts for the safer option but changes her mind after Singer makes the case that despite Hanson's attitude, his mind is the best machine the hospital has. And so, well... you can probably fill in the gaps from here.
What works: While it superficially resembles "House" (brilliant, bedside manner challenged lead; close ups of what's going on inside a patient's body; hell, even Massive Attack's "Tear Drop" is used on the temp track during one sequence), "3 Lbs." proves to be anything but thanks to its unique take on the medical drama. Instead of "telling" us what's going on with a patient, we're "shown" what's going on inside their minds. In the young girl's case, her aphasia is demonstrated by her trying to reach a ceiling covered with large white cards with words on them. My poor description aside, this aspect proves to be quite intoxicating as when she's cured it provides a (forgive the pun) wordless representation of what's happened. In fact, the entire closing act just plain pops (one hopes they can clear Coldplay's "Fix You") as one can't help but be caught up by the events. Equal props go to the show's stellar cast - principal and guest - who all feel surprisingly well rounded despite little focus on their personal lives.
What doesn't: Tucci's character - and I can't tell if it's because of the script or his acting choices - sometimes feels inconsistent. We're told he chews up and spits out his proteges on a regular basis (Della even tells Singer not to bother to unpack when he first arrives) but his behavior indicates anything but. He doesn't cut down anyone or yell, he just (again, pardon the pun) operates like a quiet machine with only the occasional outburst of opinion when pressed. And while this may be on purpose - the brain is a mystery, he's a mystery, we get it - one can't help but feel slightly confused by him. (Don't worry though, when push comes to shove Tucci's awesomeness does get to shine in the previously mentioned final sequence.) Overall, "3 Lbs." is a wonderful, unexpected surprise - one I hope you discover when it airs next year.
The challenges ahead: Will CBS's already packed schedule find room for another new drama?