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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

That's Still On? "Eli Stone"

Let's face it: There's a lot of TV out there. It can be easy for a show to sneak under your radar, like many-a Russian submarine, and keep powering along unnoticed, watched by just enough people to keep it afloat. (We know subs don't traditionally float, but stay with us here.) That's why the focus of our Channel Surfing series, "That's Still On?," is to seek out these Red Octobers and bring them to the surface. These aren't necessarily the shows you should be watching ... these are shows you didn't even know you could be watching.

Today's That's Still On?: "Eli Stone"

I'll admit, I thought "Eli Stone" was cancelled last year. I don't know anyone who has ever watched it. I've never heard anyone talk about it. I haven't even accidentally stumbled across a review of it while searching for "Pushing Daisies" or "Lost" scoops on the Web.

But a recent barrage of "Eli's Coming" promos on ABC got me thinking: how awful could it truly be? After all, when NBC aired "Freaks and Geeks" promos back in the day, I instantly thought, "Man, what a gimmicky name for a show?" With "Eli Stone," I actually found the promos to be somewhat engaging -- you know, save for Katie Holmes' annoying smile staring back at me. And since Jonny Lee Miller (the aforementioned Eli Stone) earned such good will from his role as Sick Boy in "Trainspotting," I decided to watch last night's Season Two premiere and see if the show was worth telling others about.

The verdict having missed the entire first season? This show is not only cohesive. It's surprisingly good. Perhaps due to the writers' strike, last night's first "Stone" episode of the season -- "The Path" -- did a lot of subtle backtracking for old viewers as well as new ones. Still, it was crafted in a way that kept fresh plots moving forward, presumably aimed at capitalizing on the faith (an operative word, I found, for "Eli Stone" episodes) ABC has shown in Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim's fanciful vision.

In short form, Eli Stone plays a slick San Francisco lawyer who because of an aneurysm, starts having vivid hallucinations that oddly, involve pop singer/bathroom sex addict George Michael. His Chinese acupuncturist, Dr. Chen, believes these to be divinely inspired visions of the future, and as the Season Two premiere reminds us often, Eli actually predicts an earthquake, saving several lives in the process. Not wanting to accept the responsibility that comes with being a "prophet," Eli has the aneurysm removed -- and "The Path" chronicles how this has affected others, namely Chen and Eli's supportive boss, Jordan Wethersby, who seemed to be moving his law firm toward a path of real spiritual change and social justice -- not just defending evil predatory banks, as soon becomes the case in rather timely fashion.

Eli can't practice law until his health is cleared, and his therapist, played by Sigourney "There is no Dana, only Zuul" Weaver, convinces him that he misses what the visions meant to his life, that without them he'll revert back to an unscrupulous, money-hungry lawyer, or basically a soulless egomaniac without purpose. Eli just wants to practice law with a clean bill of health, but quickly reverses course when his brother, Nathan, is struck with an Eli-like vision of a crane falling through the roof of a bank. It's later revealed that Jordan Wethersby is inside the bank at the time, and in order to convince the rescue crew to search in the right place -- a weak structured location discovered with the help of Chen -- he has to convince a judge to grant an official order.

The courtroom part becomes a bit convoluted, but it also displays a nice balance of faith vs. reason -- the idea that God and divinely inspired rituals might, in fact, have a place in the courtroom if one must place his or her hand on the Bible. The change in Eli's prescribed path only comes when he realizes that Therapist Weaver is, in fact, not a real therapist, but a "fiduciary" of God poised to talk some sense into him, or in Eli's view, "punish" him and others for basically giving God the middle finger. ("I think that grace fulfilled you in a way you didn't even know you needed, and the only thing crazy about you is the fact that you don't seem to realize that," Weaver's character tells Eli.) If Eli won't be God's prophet, then Nathan must. Eli, knowing Nathan wants to have a normal family life with his new live-in girlfriend, agrees to take the aneurysm back and stop questioning what he can't explain.

Real visions or just boring ol' faith? That's the backbone of "Eli Stone." Certainly there's ambiguity, but even if Eli is "imagining" his visions, he's acting on them and has already been proven right several times. He's also not hiding his daffiness to others. They're completely aware the visions in his head are set to George Michael tunes. So coupled with the shark-infested backdrop of a law office, it makes for a nice dichotomy -- one that isn't always firing on all cylinders, but makes for a fast paced hour that leads to a few laughs and some tough questions about moral responsibility and answering to a higher power.

Is it a show worth putting YOUR faith in? In the first and only episode I saw, there were some nice wrinkles involved, and nothing that would lead you to confuse its semi-preachy premise with say, "Touched By An Angel." "Eli Stone" may have a ways to go before becoming appointment television, but it certainly can't be worse than another hallucination-heavy show, "Ally McBeal." And didn't a lot of people watch that?

That's Still On? Score: 7.5 (out of 10)
DVR Priority: Medium
What You Could Be Doing Instead: Mocking others for spiritual beliefs you'll never have.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski, trozwado@greenbaypressgazette.com

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1 Comments:

Yes. Just found this from watching 15 minutes it on late-nite-Irish-Television(basically just US shows on late enough for Students to Watch aft gettin Home in Bad-Shape eg: Psych on aft!) Always 2-3 Seasons late,but watchable...Already mocked enough Beliefs tonight, got My Quota filled.

By Blogger Paul, At November 20, 2008 at 8:42 PM  

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