After countless medical shows of the past as well as present, the new CBS drama "3 Lbs." is weighing in with the premise that the human brain is overdue to claim the spotlight, that it's more than ready for its close-up.
"Scientists consider the brain the most complex organism in the universe, and we still know so little about it," muses Stanley Tucci, who stars as legendary neurosurgeon Dr. Douglas Hanson. "You can put in an artificial heart, you can live without an arm or without your sight.
"Without a brain — what are we?"
With this notion in, um, mind, "3 Lbs." will penetrate a human frontier of knowledge, behavior and belief — all held in the embrace of that three-pound (give or take) mass of mystery meat.
On the premiere (10 p.m. EST Tuesday), a young violinist loses her coordination, then her speech, and may lose her life. But what accounts for her symptoms? Is there more to it than a brain scan or probe can reveal?
Not according to Hanson, who prefers to regard humans as little more than transport devices for the brain that regulates them. Dubbing it "wires in a box," Hanson sees the brain as a device that will relinquish its answers if the questions are sufficiently inspired.
His team includes dishy Dr. Adrianne Holland (Indira Varma, from HBO's miniseries "Rome"), a neurologist who challenges Hanson with her sassy, unconventional manner.
Clash of styles
And his protege, Dr. Jonathan Seger, arrives in the premiere to begin a surgical fellowship under Hanson, only to find they clash in their approach to patient care: Seger feels compelled to look outside the noggin, at the whole human creature.
Among Seger's warm-and-fuzzy qualities: He makes a practice of meditating. As does Mark Feuerstein, the actor who plays him and who brought that detail to the character after conversations with "3 Lbs." creator Peter Ocko.
"We talked about meditating and the effect it can have on the brain," explains Feuerstein. "It certainly has an effect on mine. For instance, it relieves the sort of stress a new series can bring!"
Not that he's complaining. Feuerstein (who starred in the NBC sitcom "Good Morning Miami" and had a recurring part on "The West Wing") had already won his role as Seger two years ago, then been disappointed after filming a "3 Lbs." pilot with Dylan McDermott that didn't sell.
Feuerstein was considering other series options when, a year ago, the project sprang back to life. A new pilot was produced with Feuerstein reclaiming his role, as did Armando Riesco, who co-stars as the young, often put-upon Dr. Thomas Flores.
But this time, signaling a much different direction, Tucci landed the series' starring role.
Wiry and intense, with an enigmatic curl at the corner of his mouth, he invests Hanson with enormous ego, chilly bluntness, plus some as-yet-unspecified demons.
A kindred spirit of 'House'
Hanson may seem a kindred spirit with the cantankerous hero of the hit medical drama "House," which happens to air an hour earlier on Fox (and is "a show I've never seen," Tucci confesses). But their differences are notable. While Dr. House brashly defies the power structure at his fictitious hospital, Dr. Hanson forcefully embodies it at his: Viewers are sure to be impressed by the posh wing grandly labeled Dr. Douglas Hanson Building for Neurological Science.
Recently on the Queens sound stage where "3 Lbs." is shot, Tucci with co-stars Feuerstein and Indira Varma, must navigate a complicated walk-and-talk scene that takes them through the sprawling hospital set from an elevator, then along corridors, finally settling at a nurse's station.
Hanson is being lobbied by Holland to let her try an unorthodox procedure on her comatose patient. At the end of the scene, he consents. Except Tucci draws a blank on one of the scene's last lines ("Tell the mother —"), then seamlessly completes his sentence with a vulgarism that would give the FCC apoplexy. Everyone bursts out laughing.
Tucci, whose film credits include "The Devil Wears Prada" as well as "Big Night," which he also co-wrote and co-directed, starred in TV's "Murder One" a decade ago, and, in some ways, his inscrutable business magnate Richard Cross from that courtroom series foreshadowed Hanson's elusive mental workings.
Even Tucci isn't sure yet what makes Hanson tick.
"He's somewhat mysterious to me, too. But I like that," Tucci says. "I'm intrigued by the exploration of human behavior, and to get in-depth with it now, in a medical and scientific way, is really fascinating."
Where his head's at these days is the message "3 Lbs." is promoting for viewers: The brain is a lot to wrap your mind around.