Fred Allen famously called imitation the sincerest form of television, but with “3 LBS.,” CBS delivers a drama so close to Fox’s fellow Tuesday-night medical resident “House” that their mothers couldn’t tell them apart. After striking out with the more creatively challenging “Smith,” CBS is back in its comfort zone with this series about a brilliant brain surgeon and a newly arrived, wide-eyed associate a colleague dubs “the sorcerer’s new apprentice.” Actually, there’s commerce, perfunctory competence and a whole lot of “me too”-ism here, but precious little magic.
Just how House-like is Stanley Tucci’s Dr. Doug Hanson initially? He doesn’t like speaking to patients, fires off smartass remarks and is personally damaged in some small way that doesn’t take shape in the premiere — before the condition simply disappears in the second and third episodes, which is probably just as well.
Indeed, things move so fast around the Hanson Foundation, where the doc works his cerebral miracles, that new sidekick Jonathan Seger (Mark Feuerstein) has no time for introductions before being thrown onto a case — one regarding a young musical prodigy experiencing unexplained spasms.
The few character-driven wrinkles do relatively little to shift the focus from the medical plots. Jonathan, for example, engages in flirty banter with Hanson’s beautiful associate, Adrianne Holland (Indira Varma, fresh off HBO’s “Rome”), and has a snotty rival (Griffin Dunne) who seeks to convince the teen’s emotionally drained mother to explore an alternative treatment to Hanson’s surgical skills.
Tucci joins the roster of square-jawed leading men captaining CBS dramas, and with his implied penchant for womanizing and fleeting secret, it’s hard to escape the sense we’re watching the bastard child of the union between “Shark” and “House.”
As for the balance of the cast, well-traveled series nomad Feuerstein gets by as the Jedi master’s idealistic Padawan trainee, and Varma brightens up the screen whenever she’s on it, which for my money isn’t enough.
The series does change course slightly after the premiere, with Hanson softening somewhat as he treats a pregnant woman and later a former associate. In the third hour, the “B” plot involves Varma’s character falling for a fatally ill patient, which is about as tedious a twist as a medical show can engineer — except, perhaps, for the now-obligatory animation used to illustrate every misfiring neuron.
Notably, during the premiere, Hanson casually refers to the brain as “wires in a box,” which is precisely what legendary CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow warned television would become should its stewards fail to safeguard its higher aspirations — a particularly apt metaphor for a program this pedestrian.
In CBS’ defense, with “House,” NBC’s “ER” and ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” all attracting sizable crowds, pursuing its own slice of hospital heaven is a no-brainer. Even so, should this form of meatball surgery succeed, “3 LBS.” would mark another step along the bland procedural path the Eye network has followed to ratings glory.
That said, just as the wily Dr. Hanson overcomes the most daunting medical dilemmas, I’d be hard-pressed to bet against him.