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Stanley Tucci
Stanley Tucci stars as Dr. Doug Hanson, on "3 lbs," CBS's new drama. (Liebowitz/CBS)

'3 LBS.' needs a dose of originality

The title of CBS's "3 LBS. " signifies the weight of the average brain. But "3 LBS ." weighs in at a mere 2 lbs. Sadly, it has lost a critical pound of brainpower on the writers' table. The new brain-surgery series, which premieres tonight at 10 on Channel 4, is just too dopey to be deemed fully capacitated.

Remember that old slogan "Must-See TV"? Well "3 LBS ." is Wannabe TV, a show shamelessly straining to replicate the successful formula of a better show -- in this case "House." Essentially, it's a prefab "House," built primarily to look and behave like Fox's medical-detective drama about a grumpy but brilliant doctor and his more humane disciples. Naturally, it falls short.

Stanley Tucci is the neurosurgeon who treats his patients like tainted meat, and like Hugh Laurie 's House, he privately suffers from an illness (still undiagnosed). You can tell he's callous, since the writers telegraph his insensitivity, such as when he calls the brain " wires in a box." With a bitter puss and a head shaved as if to show off his cerebral muscle, Tucci all but wears a T-shirt proclaiming, "Treat the Disease." His name, Dr. Doug Hanson, recalls the phrase "hands- on," as opposed to hearts- on.

Mark Feuerstein plays Hanson's foil, his younger touchy-feely partner. His name is Dr. Jonathan S eger , as in "eager," and he is appalled by Hanson's brusque and condescending manner. Newly arrived at the show's ultrasleek New York hospital, S eger doesn't think of wires in a box when he looks at brain scans; "I feel like I'm looking at an undiscovered country," he says, wonderstruck . Naturally, S eger begins to respect Hanson, particularly when his own intuitive approach gets him into a personal-professional pickle .

Feuerstein is a likable actor who has done work both memorable ("Once and Again ") and mediocre ("Good Morning, Miami "). And Tucci has been a respected actor since his breakthrough performances on "Murder One " and in the movie "Big Night ," which he also co-wrote and co directed. But both their roles on "3 LBS ." are schematically written, so nasty vs. nice they don't get a chance to show range. They play little more than symbolic opposites. Supporting actress Indira Varma , so fascinating as the duplicitous wife in "Rome ," is more interesting than either of them. Her Dr. Adrianne Holland is wry and less obvious.

To fully prove that it's a Frankenshow, built from parts of other series, "3 LBS ." also features gut-cam sequences -- that is, simulated voyages through a patient's body -- as well as re-creations of a patient's hallucinations. On "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and "House," these interludes put us inside the heads of the doctors and the patients. On "3 LBS .," they only evoke the other two shows and remind us that such effects are becoming a clich e . Clearly, CBS wants to take a piece of the hospital-drama pie, as three other medical series -- ABC's "Grey's Anatomy ," NBC's ratings-revitalized "ER," and Fox's "House" -- are now in vogue. But that's no excuse for creator Peter Ocko (who's written and produced episodes of "Boston Legal " and "Dead Like Me ") to abandon originality in the process.

What "3 LBS ." does have going for it is the mystery of the brain itself. As doctor-detectives, Hanson and his Watson, S eger, deal with illnesses that require them to dissect human tendencies -- to be rational, to be sensory, to remember, to be conscious and unconscious. Next week, a patient whose left brain can't communicate with her right delivers profound comments during a simple flash-card exercise. It's the kind of beguiling scene the writers would be wise to cultivate. If they can emphasize the science over the tiresome characters, they might add a few ounces to this lightweight copycat.

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