Harlan Hobbits vs Big Coal

WGN just cancelled Manhattan after 2 seasons, but is far from pulling out of the serious drama game. Outsiders, their homemade brew of Justified, Sons of Anarchy, Mad Max and The Shire, however, is not going to win them any awards. The pilot episode ‘Farrell Wine’ is mildly entertaining and even a bit pretentious.


Big & Little
No quality drama series without a big name at the heart of it. House of Cards got Kevin Spacey, The Man in the High Castle Rufus Sewell, Bosch Titus Welliver, Hand of God Ron Perlman, True Detective Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, Fargo Kirstin Dunst and Ted Danson, Game of Thrones Sean Bean, American Crime Story John Travolta. To name only a few, of course. Outsiders got David Morse (Treme, House MD, The Green Mile) and fan favorite Ryan Hurst (Opie on Sons of Anarchy). Their characters, Big Foster and Little Foster, are part of the Farrells. Mountain folk. Cut off from the rest of the world, brewing their own moonshine, marrying their own cousins. And believing in ‘the prophecy’.

The Rule
The only contact they have with the outside world, is when they do so-called ‘runs’. Either by car (they do have a car) or by quad (yes, they have those, too), they drive into the nearest town, grab what they need and off they go again. People just let it happen. It doesn’t happen too often, besides, these Hobbits from Hell are dangerous. Even the local police are scared of them. Officer Wade Houghton (Thomas M. Wright, The Bridge) has a yet undisclosed history with the Farrells, and even covers up whatever crimes he can, just to avoid going up the mountain to ask them some questions. The rule is: they don’t come down, we don’t come up. Seems to me that the first part is not quite respected as well as the last part.

Believe it or not, this has been going on for years and everybody’s okay with it. But times have changed and Big Coal has laid its eyes on the mountain. There’s money to be made, jobs to be created, so the Farrell Clan has to go. ‘Relocate’. Step 1 is bringing them an eviction notice, stapled on a tree; it’s easier to arrange a sitdown with Hillary Clinton than to talk face to face with these dirty, smelly tree huggers. They’re not likeable people. You’d assume the show would take their side, but about everything we see them do, is despicable. David Morse definitely doesn’t play the hero in this story. Big Foster’s a man who can’t wait to be in control. Lead. It’s only a matter of time before Lady Ray Farrell (Phyllis Somerville, The Big C) steps down from her wooden throne and he can do what he wants, basically.


Unfortunately for him, Lady Ray sees signs of the Prophecy coming true. It’s not time for her to hand over the crown just yet. In a somewhat predictable turn of events, Big Foster kills her. By hand. Like, holding his hand over her nose and mouth, which apparently does the trick. Because of the eviction notice, they’re going to need to defend themselves. In other words: they need guns. They know a guy who knows a guy who told them about somebody with a large gun collection. Big Foster makes another ‘run’ downhill, with his buddies and his young boy, who – another predictable plot twist – hides in the back of their pickup truck. Things go wrong. The neighbors come out with guns blazing. They escape, but Big’s son is shot dead.

The Hero
This seems like a bunch of unsympathetic neanderthals are causing trouble in a small town, and yes, that is in a nutshell what the series Outsiders is. In order to root for the mountain folk in spite of everything, a hero character’s put into place: Asa (Joe Anderson, Hannibal, The River). A Farrell Clan deserter, if you will, who got a taste of the outside world, but came back. Big Foster has already tried to shoot him, so we know this is the guy we should be identifying with. It’s all a bit too much on the nose, and the premise isn’t quite exciting, so I’m afraid WGN has to go look for a new quality drama script (and big movie star) to invest in.

2016 Q1 Pilot Season

It’s the beginning of the year and CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX are busy ordering, reshooting and test-audiencing their pilots for the 2016-2017 season. What are we going to watch after we get bored by (the already cancelled, just doesn’t know it yet, dead show walking) Second Chance, (style over substance) Quantico, (paint by numbers) Blindspot and (sprawling) Limitless? They’re holding the cards. Let’s take a peek at their hands.


24: Legacy
A year ago, FOX was in the preliminary stages of creating an Expendables-like action series. Legendary television action heroes would team up and kick, strangle, shoot and blow up bad guys. I suppose, given the stubborn nature of these characters (Magnum, Jack Bauer, Michael Knight, Sydney Bristow), they couldn’t make a deal with them to share the limelight, so there hasn’t been news about this idea for a while. They did come up with a reboot of sorts – yes, another one – to continue the 24 franchise. No matter the ratings, no matter the critical acclaim, 24: Live Another Day was very disappointing. A clean slate was promised, and we got more of the same. Luckily, it only lasted half a day. FOX seems to have come to its senses, because they’re serious about starting from scratch, with 24: Legacy. No Jack. No Chloe. No Bill. No Audrey. They’re all out of the picture – i.e. let Jack rot in a Russian prison. New players, new CTU, new leading man: Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton, The Walking Dead). Also starring is Miranda Otto, who’s switching from one Howard Gordon show (Homeland) to the next. That’s all good news, on paper. However, it is once again about a ‘potential largest-scale terrorist attack on American soil’. When are they going to realize it’s not the scale of the threat that once made this series so great?

While FOX is reworking its past successes, CBS thought it’d be a good idea to bring back MacGyver. The guy who could melt steel with a matchstick, blow up tanks with a popsicle, make a trampoline out of toothpaste. Even in the eighties, this show was already too goofy. The only way it would work is, if they come up with not just realistic, but real physics tricks. My guess is the 2016 audience doesn’t like to be fooled as much as the one of 30 years ago, so they’d better bring in the Mythbusters.

These aren’t the only re-imaginations. NBC thinks it can strike gold in B-movie territory. Apparently, there’s a good enough reason to continue the story started in Cruel Intentions (1999). For Taken – Liam Neeson’s I’m going to hunt you down trilogy – they’ve created a prequel series. It’s about how ‘a young Brian Mills develops his particular skill set’. So, basically another MacGyver show. If you change the name of Mills into ‘Dr. Phil’, then you get the logline of CBS’ Bull. A procedural to inflate Phil McGraw’s ego a little more, turning his younger self into the incredibly smart man that he (thinks he) is, who’s helping people prepare for trial. That sounds a lot like the 2006 series Justice. With The Following obliterated, FOX gets its creep on once again, with The Exorcist. Set 15 years after the 2001 movie ended, CBS’ Training Day will pick up the story that got Denzel Washinton his Oscar. Ethan Hawke’s character will not only be older, but also morally more ambiguous.

Supernatural Beings and Lawyers
What’s a pilot season without vampires, werewolves and angels? Written by Monica Owusu-Breen (Alias, Fringe, Revolution, Brothers & Sisters, Charmed and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Midnight Texas brings all of your supernatural suspects to life. Also on NBC: Suits First Class AKA Miranda’s Rights and Timecop Sliders AKA Time, written by Shawn Ryan (Mad Dogs, The Shield). The green apples in ABC’s basket: Cold Case 2.0 AKA Conviction, created by Liz Friedman (Elementary, House MD). ‘Macbeth with a Cuban twist’, The Death of Eva Sofia Valdez, created by Charise Castro Smith (Devious Maids). The People vs Somebody Else AKA The Jury, written by VJ Boyd (Justified), directed by Neil Burger (Billions) and produced by Carol Mendelsohn (the one who founded the CSI factory).


There’s no telling when the superhero hype’s going to slow down, but we’re getting closer. ABC puts another series out there, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff Marvel’s Most Wanted, to completely clog the trend. Nobody cares about models, but that’s no reason to pass on Model Woman, a sort of Models Inc In The Seventies, written by Helen Childress, who’s got one other writing credit to her name (Reality Bites). If we didn’t have enough legal business already: Notorious focuses on a criminal defense attorney and a cable news producer. Stephanie Sigman (Narcos, Spectre) stars in Presence as a private investigator, created by John Ridley (12 Years a Slave, American Crime). Also on ABC: Bizarro Revolution AKA Spark, created by Michael Cooney (Identity). Romeo & Juliet The Sequel AKA Still Star-Crossed, created by Heather Mitchell (Scandal, The Chicago Code). And another Time Machine Series AKA Time After Time, created by Kevin Williamson (The Vampire Diaries, Stalker, The Following).

The Ghost of Dave Eggers
Over on CBS: Dave Eggers’ The Circle Meets Dr. House AKA Bunker Hill, written by Jason Katims (Parenthood, About a Boy). Katherine Heigl’s 68th Chance To Show Her Acting Skills AKA Doubt, and Sherlock Is A Woman AKA Drew, written by Joan Rater (Grey’s Anatomy). Although CBS’ Zoo was a (and this is the appropriate term) turd of a show, FOX just made Zoo 2: More Sick Animals under the name of Zoobiquity, written by Stephen Nathan (Bones, Joan of Arcadia). Also on FOX: Dave Eggers’ The Circle Meets Hill Street Blues AKA A.P.B., directed by Len Wiseman, who’s done the pilots for Hawaii Five-O, Sleepy Hollow and most recently Lucifer. Quantico Homeland Mashup AKA Recon, written by Caroline Dries (The Vampire Diaries). The Way Of The Ball Or What Was That Clint Eastwood Movie Called Or Was It That Kevin Costner One? AKA Pitch, starring Kylie Bunbury (Under the Dome) and written by Dan Fogelman (Galavant, Danny Collins).


A Title So Bad
Two more FOX shows are Shots Fired, about ‘racially charged shootings in a small town’ and (working title) Star, starring Queen Latifah and Benjamin Bratt, a kind of Nashville, this time in Atlanta. The last show on our list, makes us come full circle: ABC’s Designated Survivor. A title so bad, the leading man takes you by surprise: Kiefer Sutherland. It’d be wrong to assume he’s going to play another Bauer-ish character, especially given the logline: ‘A lower-level U.S. Cabinet member suddenly is appointed President after a catastrophic attack during the State of the Union kills everyone above him in the line of succession.’ That sounds interesting. The show, which has been ordered straight to series, is written by David Guggenheim (Safe House) and produced by Simon Kinberg (X-Men Apocalypse, The Martian). Now, is Sutherland going to play this Cabinet member and what’s he going to do as acting President? Who knows. This is by far the most promising pilot of all, but please, ABC, change the name. Mr. Sutherland Goes To Washington would even be a better title than Designated Survivor.

The Twists and Turns of Colony

A new show starring Josh Holloway is always something to look forward to, just because of his portrayal of Sawyer in LOST, the tough teddybear on that mysterious island in the South Pacific. One of the writers on that show, Carlton Cuse, has carved out a new hard-edged-but-actually-a-sweetheart role for him, that of Will Bowman. And this time, it’s not an ocean that keeps him prisoner, but a massive wall, in Colony.


The Pilot
We’ve talked about Colony before, after its first look special ‘Behind the Wall’, which, as it turned out, was basically the pilot episode with a few testimonials cut in between. Los Angeles has gotten a wall Donald Trump can only dream about, built by the ‘Others’. It’s a result of a war between men and… aliens? In any case, Will used to be a soldier in that war, but is laying low, trying to live an ordinary life, providing for his family. That’s his wife Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies, Prison Break, The Walking Dead) and their two children. There’s one child missing, though, their son. Taken beyond the wall, and without telling Katie anything, Will sets out on a dangerous quest to find him. During an attack at the wall/border by the resistance, Will’s discovered by the officials and taken into custody. Proxy Governor Alan Snyder (Peter Jacobson, House MD, Ray Donovan) makes him an offer he can’t refuse. Collect intel on the resistance and then, maybe, if Snyder feels like it, get his son back. All Will has been trying to do is keep his head down, so he’s not in contact with any resistance members, but he’s got no choice but to play ball. Katie, however, is part of a resistance cell. That last twist feels a bit too much. How and why would she keep such a secret from her veteran husband? It may have been better if they’d saved that surprise for later – like LOST used to do with practically everything, postponing revelations indefinitely – but I guess USA doesn’t have the luxury of gradually building an audience; they need viewers quick, and that means plot twists, please, as many as you can spare.

Brave New World
The second episode ‘Brave New World’ introduces, apart from a few continuity errors, a bunch of new characters. Snyder stays in the background – doesn’t even show up, in fact – and his replacement, story wise, as the one who gives Will his orders, is Phyllis (Kathy Baker, Medium, Boston Public). She pairs him up with Beau (Carl Weathers). Also walking around in the Colony universe: Jennifer, played by the extremely funny Kathleen Rose Perkins (Episodes, Trust Me) and George (Strike Team alumnus Brian White, The Shield, Men of a Certain Age, Chicago Fire). Will’s collaborating with the oppressive government at Homeland Security, tracking down the guy who played a vital role in the border bombing, Andrew (Craig Henningsen). When he brings him in, Will finds his friend Carlos (Jacob Vargas, Sons of Anarchy, Hand of God) in custody, too, ready to be shipped off to a place called ‘The Factory’.


The Factory
Will tries to make Carlos his CI, but Homeland’s full of people who just try to survive. Phyllis gets her orders ‘from above’; her hands are tied. At least Will and Katie make sure Carlos’ wife and son are safe. Meanwhile, the so-called Red Hats who do the interrogations, break Andrew. He gives up the location where his people are hiding. Will’s called to come in, Katie overhears him on the phone and informs Quayle (Paul Guilfoyle), head of her cell. When Homeland arrives on the scene, Andrew’s people are bleeding out on the floor. Somebody knew they were coming. Will realizes there must be a mole. And I suspect, given the pace of the show, Katie will confess her role in all of this to him in episode 3. Together with a group of other prisoners, Carlos is sent to ‘The Factory’, which looks like a huge gas chamber, but it’s not quite clear what happens to them. There’re blue lights, then red lights, a lot of smoke, people in hazmat suits… The writers wouldn’t have shown all this if the prisoners were all just going to get killed. They haven’t made it spooky for nothing; there’s something going on, perhaps even something alien.

Well Done
For now, the whole occupation thing feels a bit silly. What motivation could the aliens (if they are, indeed, aliens) have for dividing the United States into specific ‘zones’? Are they transforming Los Angeles into an amusement park? (That’s not such a stretch, actually, if you know what I mean.) But all silliness considered, the show’s fast, looks great, there’s enough mystery to be captivating, so I definitely give it the benefit of the doubt. Shallow entertainment, but shallow entertainment well done.

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

The BBC has a funny habit of ordering the absolute minimum of episodes of their most beloved series. Over the course of five and a half years, they’ve aired a total of 16 episodes of Luther, starring Idris Elba (The Wire). These 16 episodes have been divided over no less than 4 seasons. Something similar is going on with Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. In the same amount of time, there have been 3 seasons, each consisting of 3 episodes – the last one aired two years ago. This year we have to do with just one ‘special’, called ‘The Abominable Bride’.


Everybody’s pulling at Cumberbatch and Freeman, so I know scheduling must be hard. They both have recently joined the Marvel Universe, so that means filming after-credits scenes alone must be a fulltime job. However, you can’t tell me there’s only been time for one Sherlock episode in the last two years. For a show with lots of devoted fans, all over the world, it must be something close to disdain to take such long breaks in between. Keep it up and the series will run out of momentum, if it hasn’t already. Even the deepest invested Sherlockians will turn their backs on it. The fourth season will air in 2017 – again: 3 episodes – and the BBC had better hope people won’t have forgotten about it by then.

For now, it’s only the ‘special’ to keep the fire burning. Sherlock Holmes (Cumberbatch) and Dr. John Watson (Freeman), the British Mulder and Scully, with Mulder being Dr. Gregory House, travel back to the 1800-somethings, ‘alternatively’, to try to solve a crazy suicide. But not before the series shows how the brilliant detective and the war veteran would’ve met in Victorian London: very much the same way as they did in the pilot episode ‘A Study in Pink’.

The Bride
If you think their getting to know each other – or, Watson figuring out Holmes – is going to be done all over again, but in different costumes, you’d be mistaken. Sherlock might seem like a typical slow-paced British whodunnit, but it’s actually quite fast and loaded with all kinds of twists. After the main credits, we immediately flash forward to a new case. A bride (at least that’s how she’s dressed), whose lipstick is all over the place, shoots people from her balcony, then shoots herself in the head. Then, she returns as a ghost and kills her husband. Or does she? Because on this show it is never what it seems.

Both Things Can Be True
About halfway through the episode, Holmes wakes up. Wakes up? So this was all a dream? Well, yes and no. He’s been trying to solve a case by going into his famous ‘mind palace’. But it’s not solved yet; he needs to go back. Like usual, near the end of ‘The Abominable Bride’, he figures it out. But for one loose thread, which doesn’t make sense to him. Moriarty (Andrew Scott). What does he have to do with it? Well, that never becomes clear. Holmes’ arch enemy is dead, but ‘he’s back’ anyway, according to Holmes. Apparently, both things can be true, and who am I to question the greatest mystery solver currently in popular culture?

Lack of Material
Solving the case of the Bride seems to have put Holmes on the trail of Moriarty, in some way, which ends the episode on somewhat of a cliffhanger. Since it’s not a season finale, but merely a holiday special, the ending feels a bit forced. It’s one twist too many, but other than that, Sherlock has once again presented a very interesting story, full of surprises and creative effects. This show can go on for years to come. And I don’t mean stretching out seasons for years on end. Just order a proper season, BBC, like 6 to 10 episodes a year. There are 60 (original) Sherlock Holmes stories, so lack of source material isn’t an excuse.

Code Black: Pilot

The medical procedural used to be quite popular, but sometimes the perfection of a specific format can be a curse in disguise. Between 2004 and 2012, there was only one doctor who mattered, and everything that has come after, just pales by comparison. Networks try, but eventually fail at bringing the ‘next great medical drama’ (they all always seem to be advertised the same way). The only exception is The Knick, which is getting some traction, and now maybe this new CBS show called Code Black, that looks more ER than House MD, and that might be a clever move.


The Paragon
Marcia ‘Daddy’ Gay Harden and Luis ‘Mommy’ Guzmán star in what could be described as a better looking version of ER, without the unnecessary subplots of its main characters’ personal lives. Code Black is about ‘code black’ and that means chaos on the hospital floor. At least 300 days a year, this particular emergency room suffers from too many patients and not enough beds. Doctors have to act quickly, efficiently in order to help as many people as possible. It’s a pressure cooker; indeed, the paragon to build a series around.

Mommy and Daddy are in charge of the place, but there’s also Neal Hudson (Raza Jaffrey, Homeland, Smash, Elementary), who’s not too happy with how Daddy’s handling her patients. She’s taking too many risks, but she saves a lot of people, so their boss (Kevin Dunn, Veep, True Detective) turns a blind eye. The board likes her, so he loves her, he says. If this show has an actual antagonist, Hudson’s probably it, but he’s fighting with Harden’s character – who’s actually called Leanne – openly, and despite their differences of opinion they seem to be upfront with each other, so that makes it harder to create drama between them.

A New Batch
The episode starts with Mommy giving a terrifying speech, that’s also quite inspirational. Jesse (Mommy’s real name) gives a new batch of doctors the tour. That includes Mario (Benjamin Hollingsworth, Suits, Backstrom), Malaya (Melanie Chandra, The Brink), Christa (Bonnie Somerville, NYPD Blue, Cashmere Mafia) and Angus (Harry Ford). After only a minute or two, they’re – as are we – in the middle of chaotic life saving situations. Malaya’s the prodigy, Mario the cocky one, Christa’s the hesitater and Angus doesn’t think he belongs there at all (but is going to stay anyway, you’ll see, if only to make his father proud).
Also lurking in the background: Adina Potter (The Newsroom, True Blood) and William Allen Young (CSI, CSI: Miami, Good Luck Charlie). Jill Andre has a small guest role. This lady’s done it all, from St. Elsewhere, Trapper John MD, Santa Barbara, Dallas, Dynasty, Matlock to NYPD Blue, Cold Case and Castle.

Dumbed Down
The new doctors have to prove themselves, and one does (there’s only so much time in a single episode). Christa’s doing the honors of first getting fired, then coming up with the right diagnosis, to save the day by delivering a baby on the highway. And after all that getting rehired, obviously.
If the pilot is any indication, this show is mostly about the chaos when a ‘code black’ is announced on the board (so everybody knows they have to immediately drop what they’re doing and help out). If it’s medical rush hour for 300 days a year, I’d say why isn’t anyone doing anything about it? Would it really be impossible to bring in more resources, equipment, people? A hospital wouldn’t be pleased with an almost daily code black on its hands, I assume. So how realistic is the show? Well, given it’s inspired by the Ryan McGarry’s documentary of the same name, it should be somewhat accurate, right? Unfortunately, this dramatized version has dumbed down the source material a little too much.

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad show. Yet. No one can help rooting for Harden and Guzmán, and the pacing’s well done. But looking beyond the fast cut tos, you have to ask yourself: Is it actually interesting? Well, no. And that’s not much of a surprise, if you think back to the other medical dramas we’ve seen over the years. The least interesting parts of those stories were the actual medical procedures. It wasn’t for nothing that House MD often went to a commercial when they started operating on a patient. I suppose the chaos of Code Black is just that. Chaos. What’s so interesting about that? Let me think about that while I’m giving the show another episode.

3 Lbs: Of Two Minds

A couple of weeks ago, we went down medical memory lane and discussed the pilot episode of the House MD clone 3 Lbs. Was it really as bad as the cancellation after just three aired episodes implied? No, it wasn’t, far from it. So how about the series’ second episode, ‘Of Two Minds’?


Again, the similarities between 3 Lbs and the Hugh Laurie show stood out the most. But Gregory House, despite being an ass, had a sense of humor. The audience easily chose him over Douglas Henson (Stanley Tucci). In retrospect, Doug isn’t such an ass, just very analytical. The empathy comes from newbie doctor Jonathan Seger (Mark Feuerstein). He’s to Doug what Cameron used to be to House. Because the two shows were too much alike, the audience felt like it had to choose. Cranky, cynical dad Gregory, or new stepfather on the block Doug. (Both series airing on the same day also was a very bad move.)

Because of time slot, similarity and music score, 3 Lbs didn’t stand a chance. The only way it could’ve survived, maybe, would’ve been to tie it into the House MD universe. A crossover episode of some kind. Highly unlikely, since Doug was on CBS, Gregory was on FOX. Still, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to see them working together on something, or even working in the same hospital, just in different wings. Two of the most brilliant television doctors facing off, I would’ve liked to see that, but that crazy idea will always stay in Hollywood’s ‘never going to happen’ binder. 3 Lbs suffered such a big cancellation blow to the head, there’s no way Netflix would ever consider picking it up out of the garbage bin (and do a limited series starring characters from both medical dramas).

The second episode doesn’t disappoint, keeps the bar as high as the Pilot. Doug even shows his human side a little bit, mostly through quiet smiles behind everybody’s back, but still. Dr. Adrianne Holland (Indira Varma, Ellaria Sand on Game of Thrones) doesn’t have much to do, except some experimental treatment and looking at cops in uniforms. The (neurological) case is a very interesting one. What to do when you’ve got an inoperable tumor in your head, but radiation’s not an option because you’re pregnant and you don’t want to kill the baby?

No Happy Outcome
There’s no happy outcome. From what I remember, House MD used to swing for the fences and eventually cured the patient almost every time. 3 Lbs figures out the best possible solution, but that doesn’t mean everything’s back to normal when the hour’s over. In only its second episode, it’s clear the show’s not afraid to pick the lesser of two evils, as if to say: that’s life.

Left and Right
‘Of Two Minds’ – hence the title – plays around with the fact that the brain’s actually two brains. A rational (left) side and an emotional (right) side – although Doug would never explain it that way; much too simple. These sides communicate with each other, but what happens if you cut that chord – which happens in the show because the patient’s having seizures? The right brain, in charge of the left side of the body, is kept under control by the left brain, in charge of the right side. So what happens if the right, emotional brain is left to its own devices?

The Dilemma
It’s actually a very interesting concept – and probably simplified because, well, this is television. However, the right brain does have a voice. In this case, the exact opposite opinion of the patient’s rational, left brain. There are lots of questions to ask that go deeper than what part of the brain operates which leg. It’s about posing the question which brain side you are, which brain side you want to be, maybe even should be. It’s the century old dilemma of rationality vs. feelings. Objectivity vs. emotion.
3 Lbs, caged inside a procedural format, stays on the surface, but it certainly deserves all the credit for addressing the tip of the iceberg of such a rich philosophical topic.

3 Lbs: Lost for Words

Sometimes TV series come, take a peek, only to get completely massacred by the ratings. Before you realize the show even exists, it’s gone forever. Swept right off the face of the Earth. Sometimes ratings don’t justify such an early exit. Let’s take a second look at 3 Lbs.


Watered Down Copy
It’s November 14, 2006. The third season of House, MD is in full swing. In fact, on this very date ‘Son of a Coma Guy’ airs, guest-starring David Morse. For some reason, CBS chooses to blindly challenge the hugely popular Hugh Laurie series with a seemingly watered down copy, called 3 Lbs. It takes the network three weeks to pull it. No one messes around with Gregory House.
The show’s cast isn’t the problem. Stanley Tucci (Margin Call, ER, The Terminal, Miami Vice), Indira Varma (Game of Thrones, Human Target, Luther, Rome), Mark Feuerstein (Royal Pains, Nurse Jackie, The West Wing) and Griffin Dunne (House of Lies, Damages, Alias, Trust Me) (by the way, did you spot the cameo of Nick Offerman?) are top of the bill; no, it must be the concept.

The Concept
Egocentric but brilliant doctor, solving difficult medical puzzles. Sound familiar? Yes, at first glance, 3 Lbs. cheaply plagiarizes House, MD, but take a closer look and you’ll find a pretty damn good show – at least based on the pilot.
The opening scene could easily have been an opening scene of its direct competitor. It’s the scene in which the medical mystery manifests itself. Someone starts to feel funny, faint, bleed or go crazy. In this case, it’s the nail in Hank Moody’s coffin Madeline Zima (Californication, The Nanny, Heroes) who’s unable to control her fingers during a violin performance. Cut to: the main titles.

As if the show was a nineties leftover, the main titles look like they were made with the program Paint on a computer running on Windows 95. Still, House, MD clearly was an inspiration here as well. They did try to modernise the song, although I’m not sure who in their right mind would think Train (with ‘Calling All Angels’) could make us forget Massive Attack’s Teardrop.

Proof of Originality
So, one scene and the leader down, still proof of originality to go. Well, despite the fact the score is also very similar to House, MD’s, the first scene in the hospital makes it clear how this show is different. First of all, the genius doctor Doug Hanson (Tucci) isn’t the main character, it’s his new apprentice (Feuerstein). Where House had a cane and a Vicodin addiction, Hanson suffers from hallucinations. One thing he doesn’t have, though, is a sense of (cynical) humor.

Doug does have something House doesn’t: a daughter. Played by another Californication alum: a very young Addison Timlin. It’s only 5 years between 3 Lbs. and seducing Hank Moody, but it’s a difference between day and night, between just a girl and a gorgeous (voluptuous) woman. They grow up so fast.
All plagiarisms aside, ‘Lost for Words’ has a damn fine story. Where other pilots often feel rushed, this one’s completely balanced; it breathes. The characters are interesting, the story of the violinist has a great emotional payoff, there’s some (sexual) tension between Varma – who’s got a special relationship with Doug – and Feuerstein, who’s not only a promising neurologist, but also interested in his patients (so basically he’s Doug’s Cameron) and meditation. And there’s Dunne, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, who’s scheming in the background.

The Newest
By the end of the episode, it’s clear what CBS was thinking: ‘That Fox show has probably run out of steam by the time its third season rolls around, so there’ll be room for a new medical drama, and let’s put them against each other and may the newest win’. I suppose no one could predict Hugh Laurie wouldn’t back down for years to come. But, unjustly, 3 Lbs. only got a lousy three episodes on the air and that’s a shame.