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Damn you, Doogie Howser! Must you be so influential? Now, I'm not referring to your bold decision to emerge from the closet (a maneuver that seems to be the height of chic among TV doctors). Who's next? Eric Dane? Jane Seymour? That big bear on ER who used to bully Parker Lewis? Yeah, I know he's a nurse.
No, I'm talking about music. Specifically, those soothing Casiotone vibes that chimed pleasantly throughout Doogie's opening sequence, simultaneously evoking Grandma's musical doorbell, a fourth-grade piano recital, and PONG. The score already seemed dated at the time, didn't it? And yet, for some inexplicable reason, TV music supervisors—particularly those working on medical dramas—are still relying on these exact plucky synth tones to create a mood of curiosity and wonder.
Please stop, guys. Not every instrument is appropriate for every procedure: A doctor can't cure cataracts with a speculum. Imagine how powerful hospital-corridor banter could be if you backed it with glockenspiel! Or tuba! Armpit! Anything!
CBS's quirkily named new neurosurgeon drama, 3 lbs, is sadly guilty of synth abuse. Not only that, but it uses Train's stale, dorky ballad "Calling All Angels" as its theme song, which is so CBS it hurts. However, much as I am tempted to headline this review "THREE POUNDS OF SHIT!" in retaliation, I shall resist.
The show doesn't stink, even though bloodthirsty Netizens were accusing it of being derivative before it even aired. Unfortunately for 3 lbs (OF MIDSEASON OPTIMISM!), prime time is already glutted with successful, well-executed medical shows. Grey's Anatomy has ably hooked both romance addicts and procedural fans, and ER somehow still pulls numbers after 80-odd years of liver transplants and whirlybird mishaps. And then there's House, which has already made a cult figure out of sneering Hugh Laurie. (In the words of one development exec I met in L.A., "Limps are hot right now.")
So 3 lbs (OF UNDERDOG!) has been at a severe disadvantage since its conception. First of all, it features a now-familiar archetype, the stoic antihero in scrubs. Dr. Hanson (Stanley Tucci) is considered one of the country's foremost neurosurgeons. However, Hanson is as frosty as, well, a Frostee—he doesn't even bother to look at his patients when he informs them their noggins have gone malignant. (In other words, he's kind of like House, kind of like Dr. Yang from Grey's, and kind of like whatever inscrutable tyrant they have on ER these days.)
Of course, every Gruff, Science-Minded Doctor needs a Sensitive, Idealistic, Younger Doctor to serve as a proper foil. (Apparently, the HMOs demand it.) In this case, the part is ably played by Jonathan Seger, (Mark Feuerstein), who's just beginning a prestigious surgical residency at Hanson Neuro. Jonathan is kind of like McDreamy-lite: He has the same lush hair and aquiline nose, but he's far less self-assured and doesn't seem likely to shower with an intern.
We're supposed to worry that Jonathan will buckle under Dr. Hanson's critical gaze. In the pilot, Hanson's assistant Melania (Zabryna Guevara) advises Jonathan to not unpack his belongings until he knows he's capable of sticking around. I have a vague hunch that he will.
All shows have a framing device these days, and 3 lbs (OF PREDICTABILITY!) opts for an artistic take on the typical cold opening. Before the credits even roll, we meet the patient whose diagnosis will power the plot. For instance, one episode opens with a pregnant woman having a seizure in a department store. As we're being introduced to the neuron-challenged guest star, we find ourselves traveling into his/her brain via sparkly, fractal-y computer graphics, complete with medical terminology floating through the air. I'm sort of hoping the show will abandon this conceit, because a) it comes off like a cheesy biology class filmstrip; and b) it's only a matter of time until one of the patients has a polyp on her colon.
Though we've all spent time on this ward, absorbing our TV's radiation therapy, the doctors here are decent company. Indira Varma is delightfully plummy as Adrienne Holland, a Brit who flirts savagely with Jonathan even as she convinces him to date another woman. (One thing the other medical shows don't have is a female character who's entirely secure in her sexuality.) Stanley Tucci plays what could be a scenery-chewing cliché with masterful subtlety; on the few occasions when he bothers to look at someone, his eyes glow with unspoken knowledge. And though Feuerstein may be the uncertain newbie, he doesn't seem weak or wobbly. I'd actually let Dr. Seger operate on me (insert "Night Moves" joke here).
Admittedly, this is the unhippest hospital drama on the air right now. (I suspect it won't be inspiring any iTunes playlists featuring Snow Patrol.) Still, early episodes of any series have a tendency to seem overcautious, so there's hope for this appealing bandwagon-jumper.
Incidentally, the titular measurement refers to the mass of the human brain. I'm sure the cast is feeling considerably more weight, but you know what? I predict that the patient is going to make it. The medical genre has flourished for over a decade, and what's three more pounds on a mountain?
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