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New Series Review: 3 Lbs. (CBS)

Stanley Tucci and Mark Feuerstein in 3 Lbs.

Premiering: Tuesday night, Nov. 14 (9 central, 10 eastern), CBS
Starring: Stanley Tucci, Mark Feuerstein, Indira Varma, Armando Riesco
Produced by: Peter Ocko, Scott Kaufer, Davis Guggenheim

Creators of broadly drawn, critically panned TV shows often defend their work with this overworked fallback position: "Hey, it's not brain surgery."

CBS' 3 Lbs. can't use that one. It's the first prime-time series to detail the ins and ins of brain surgery. Technically speaking at least, it's not mindless entertainment.

Tuesday's premiere, in place of the canceled Smith and crime reruns, plays with viewers' heads a bit via dreamscapes and recurring visions of a little girl by top doc Doug Hanson (Stanley Tucci). It's labored and slow-on-the-draw at first. By episode's end, though, you just might be willing to be a weekly outpatient.

Tucci's character is brusque, enigmatic, egocentric and easily compared to Fox's Dr. Gregory House. On the other hand he's bald and without a cane, so let's be fair.

The other principal doc is young, incoming Jonathan Seger (Mark Feuerstein), who of course is an idealistic people person. He greatly admires Dr. Hanson's skills with a scalpel but won't abide his taciturn approaches to patients. Unfortunately, Seger verbalizes his frustrations with a burst of dialogue that might make your head hurt.

If he can't get close to his patients, "then I should go take polyps off colons," Seger blurts. "Because I can't screw around in somebody's head and not know whose soul I'm bumping up against."

There's also barefootin' Dr. Adriannne Holland (Indira Varma), whose feet usually aren't bumping up against any soles. Says she: "Fear is the mind's magic trick. And you can choose to believe it or not."

Choke down these bromides if you can. 3 Lbs. doesn't make a full recovery, but it gets more engaging down the stretch. The featured patient is a young cello player named Cassie (Madeline Zima), who collapses at a concert and is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Dr. Hanson and his arch-nemesis, Dr. Jeffrey Coles (Griffin Dunne), then clash over how it should be excised while Cassie's mother fumes and frets.

A secondary case, involving an older man who gets lost all the time, pretty much goes nowhere in the first episode. But Drs. Seger and Holland look as though they're going to get to first base and beyond in future episodes.

Tucci's the main reason to watch, though. His best scene is with a young woman who went blind after he operated on her. She visits the hospital and feels her way around Dr. Hanson's hands and face. It's a touching scene on two levels.

Otherwise Dr. Hanson is fond of coldly saying that the brain is merely "wires in a box." CBS' patron saint of news, Edward R. Murrow, once made the same observation about the new medium of television. To become more than that, it had to fulfill its great promise, he said.

3 Lbs. has some promise, too. It seems worth keeping an eye on.

Prospects: Lots more engaging than Smith, it nonetheless has a tough fight opposite NBC's dominant Law & Order: SVU and ABC's still potent Boston Legal. But it's compatible with its CBS lead-in The Unit. And by next week, ABC won't have Dancing with the Stars as Tuesday's unbeatable lead-off hitter.

Grade: B-minus