'3 LBS' (Tuesday, 9 p.m., CBS) is the rare TV series with brains. Lots and lots of brains. It's about New York neurosurgeons obsessed with the three pounds of mysterious matter inside the human skull.
Dr. Hanson (Stanley Tucci) is the cold one, regarding patients as surgical objects rather than people. For him, a malfunctioning brain is not an enigma, but a machine in need of repair ' 'wires in a box,' as he puts it. Dr. Hanson's new protÃgÃ, Dr. Seger (Mark Feuerstein), is the warm one. For him, the brain has a metaphysical aura. He believes that intangible considerations ' emotional state, intuition ' can affect its treatment. He gets to know his patients, soothing them with his bedside manner. 'I can't screw around in someone's head,' he tells Hanson, 'and not know whose soul I'm bumping up against.'
The warm one and the cold one ' it sounds like a clichÃ, but Tucci and Feuerstein make sure their characters are complex individuals rather than stock figures. In the pilot, Dr. Seger reports for work at the clinic and immediately cramps Dr. Hanson's style with his touchy-feely approach. They clash over treating a violinist who's lost the power to speak and write, Hanson brusquely recommending surgery and Seger respecting the family's fear of the operating table.
After subtly laying out the conflicts for 50 minutes, the pilot lets 'er rip in the last 10. The two doctors stride out of surgery in slow motion as yearning rock rises on the soundtrack, the lyrics promising that 'THE LIGHTS WILL GUIDE YOU HOME!'
Corny? No, dramatically powerful. I know because the wires in my own three-pound box were overheating.
All American Pie Championship
Saturday, 9 pm (Food Network)
For one weekend each year, Celebration, Fla., becomes the pie capital of the world. In a heated competition, bakers reveal their secrets for mouthwatering crusts and fillings.
'All American Pie Championship' is a lot of fun, though I think the event would be even more enjoyable if it included celebrity judges from the TV blurb-writing field. (Hint, hint.)
Wisconsin Korean War Stories
Monday, 8 pm (WHA)
Wisconsin's Korean War veterans tell their tales, with details so scary that your blood runs cold.
The veterans have grown so old and stoic that you can barely connect them with the terrible events they describe. They landed in Korea and expected to halt aggression by the Communist North within three days. Instead, they became ensnared in fighting that dragged on for three years. They watched their friends die, they burned the occasional village, and they endured unspeakable abuse as prisoners of war.
One veteran describes playing possum to avoid getting shot by enemy guards. They stuck a bayonet in his leg to see if he was still alive, but he didn't move a muscle. 'They dragged me out on the dead pile,' he says flatly.
Some of the veterans kept quiet about their experiences, thinking no one back home could conceive of such horrors. 'I never talked to my wife, or my mother and dad, or nobody else about it,' one of them says. 'They questioned me about it a couple of times, but you talk about it and they don't believe you anyway.'
In the middle of the Iraq War, with the media reporting on daily horrors from the front, at least we can say this: We believe them now.
Murder by the Book
Monday, 9 pm (Court TV)
Brace yourself for the least sentimental mother-son story of all time. Crime writer James Ellroy narrates the story of his mother's murder in 1958, when he was 10. Don't expect the usual platitudes about a loving mother ripped from her adoring son. 'I hated her, I lusted for her, I wished for her dead,' Ellroy says matter-of-factly.
Ellroy is used to looking into the dark corners of the human heart, and his own heart is no exception. He doesn't delude himself about his mother, an alcoholic floozy who died at the hands of a 'swarthy man' she met at a Los Angeles-area dive. Young Ellroy pretended to be sad, as convention required, but was actually relieved to be rid of the woman who stirred such powerful feelings of arousal and contempt.
The story is riveting, especially when Ellroy decides to investigate his mother's murder in the 1990s. He interviewed surviving witnesses, followed leads and, in the process, confronted his long-suppressed grief. Ellroy never found the murderer, but for the first time realized that he hated the swarthy man.
And that's as close to heartwarming as 'Murder by the Book' ever gets.
Wednesday, 8 pm (ABC)
Did you ever have the feeling you'd seen a show about dÃjÃ vu before? This new series plays a familiar mind game, making a confused detective named Hopper (Taye Diggs) live through the same day ad infinitum. The first time, he wakes up in bed with his girlfriend, gets framed for murder, and watches his loved ones kidnapped and killed. The day ends with Hopper tied up in a cavelike setting as bad guys inject him with a mysterious drug.
He wakes up in bed with his girlfriend... and it all begins again. This time, Hopper is aware of what happened yesterday, so he tries to change his fate. But despite his best efforts, the second day ends in the cavelike setting with the mysterious drug.
He wakes up in bed with his girlfriend....
'Day Break' inadvertently makes you dread the next day as much as Hopper does. It's grim and depressing, with bad actors playing their dull scenes over and over again.
'Why? Tell me why this is happening!' Hopper cries, beating the viewer to the punch.