There is a high rate of redundancy in television, which is full of shows that are quite like other shows, telling stories quite like those told on other shows quite like them. (I was about to write "an unavoidably high rate," but these things are a matter of choice, after all.) This is true even of many good series, in which the ingredients are varied or combined in such a way as to make them cohere into some new yet familiar flavor, the way, say, a well-made lasagna might taste different from any you have eaten before and yet still, evidently, be lasagna.
It is also true that people are often willing to watch something that resembles something that they already like, even if it isn't as good as the original something, just because they can't get enough of it. (This describes most of what's on TV.)
So there is, theoretically, room in the world for "3 Lbs.," a new series about neurosurgeons -- the title refers to the average weight of a human brain -- that premieres tonight on CBS in place of the quickly departed "Smith." That it's hard not to think of "House" while watching it -- prickly genius surrounded by younger foils -- or indeed of other "House"-like shows (including the network's own "Shark"), and that brain surgery is already being regularly practiced on "House" and on "Grey's Anatomy," should not necessarily be held against it. Even at 3 pounds, there is enough brain to go around, being the seat of consciousness and all.
Still, the fact that, like "House," each episode of "3 Lbs." begins with a patient-to-be having some sort of attack or seizure in the course of his or her daily business -- accompanied by computer graphics that rush you inside the body to the hugely magnified trouble spot -- might lead you to suspect that writer and executive producer Peter Ocko, a veteran of "Boston Legal" and "Dead Like Me," has been looking at his neighbor's paper when he should have been concentrating on his own.
The nub of this particular drama are the opposing philosophies and doctoring styles of peerlessly talented neurosurgeon Doug Hanson (the House figure, played by Stanley Tucci) and his new fellow Dr. Jonathan Seger (Mark Feuerstein). Hanson thinks of the brain as "wires in a box," while Seger believes in treating the whole person. "I can't screw around in somebody's head and not know whose soul I'm bumping up against," he says. Again, this sort of argument is typical of medical dramas, and (as is also typical) one sides with Hanson, because his hand is reliably sure and his jokes are better.
"It's my experience that the emotional state of the family can impact the physiological resilience of a patient," Seger tells Hanson.
"I've found taking the tumor out of the patient's skull is fairly effective as well," Hanson replies. The fact that the touchy-feely doctor has a mouth full of jargon, while the apparently unfeeling one speaks the language of ordinary humans is a nice touch. But this dualism is broadly drawn and schematic, and will soon wear itself out. While it's quite watchable if you don't expect much from it, and while even though the cast is good company -- Tucci works his trademark somnolent charm, and Feuerstein is likable, as are the barefoot neurosurgeon played by Indira Varma and the not-sure- who-he-is-yet-exactly other doctor played by Armando Riesco -- the show is not vivid or daring enough to overcome one's sense of having seen it all before. And there's a pedantic tone to the dialogue -- characters are always explaining things, even to characters who should already know what's being explained to them -- that keeps the drama from erupting into messy life.
"3 Lbs." is ultimately undone by this moderation and by a seeming confusion of intent, as if the creators, producers, executives and actors couldn't quite agree on what exactly they were doing.
As a result, it has no teeth. Though Hanson is reputed to be a cold man who eats his proteges for breakfast and washes them down with a cocktail of puppies and small children, Tucci plays him as a no worse than a slightly grumpy pussycat whose ability to divide feeling from fact makes him just the man you'd want knocking around inside your head. That he's having hallucinations himself is obviously meant to bloom into a Major Story Arc, and the sooner the better.
When: 10 tonight
Rating: TV-PG-D, L (may be unsuitable for young children, with advisories for coarse language and suggestive dialogue)