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Reviewed by Will Harris
fter watching the Season One DVD set of “Eli Stone” from top to bottom and thoroughly enjoying it, there’s still one thing missing that I’d really like to have seen included: footage from the original pitch to the network for the show.
Perhaps the reason for its omission is that no one actually bothered to film the event, but if that’s the case, it’s a real shame, because I imagine that it would have been absolutely fascinating to watch. With each passing episode of “Eli Stone,” I found myself wondering how intricately creators Greg Berlanti and Mark Guggenheim had plotted out their meeting with the network. Surely it must’ve been structured with the greatest of precision, trying to praise the most creative elements of the show without making the description too clever, all the while waiting until the last possible second to add, almost offhandedly, “Oh, right, and the guy also has a brain aneurysm!” (ABC’s decision to give the series the plum spot on the network’s schedule behind “Lost” is equally intriguing. I have a sneaking suspicion that at least one executive may have said, “Hey, that’s perfect, because I don’t understand either of ‘em!”)
The events that occur in the life of attorney Eli Stone (Jonny Lee Miller) during the first 13 episodes of this series do not readily lend themselves to a nutshell description, as they are so multi-faceted, but let us look at the two most important segments.
As an attorney, Eli embodies many of the worst attributes of his profession, but things start to change when he begins to see strange visions which, for reasons never adequately explained (but no doubt eventually will be), often revolve around George Michael songs. These visions are highly elaborate and often frightening, such as when he finds himself being pursued by a dragon or buzzed by a biplane, but they invariably steer him in the direction of a particular case or provide a hint of what the future may hold. Whatever assistance they may offer, however, is generally diminished by their tendency to occur at very unfortunate times -- like, say, in the middle of board meetings or, worse, while he’s in the middle of trying a case. The problem, according to his brother, Dr. Nathan Stone (Matt Lescher), is a brain aneurysm, something their father had also suffered from and which drove him to alcoholism as he attempted to deal with his own visions. Fortunately, Eli finds at least a certain amount of relief from acupuncture, courtesy of Dr. Chen (James Saito), whose talents are, thankfully, far more consistent than his accent. (Then again, as Chen reminds Eli, ancient Chinese medicine seems to work a lot better when the practitioner doesn’t sound so darned American.)
Eli practices the legal arts within the firm of Wethersby, Posner, and Klein, and he has an arguable advantage over his peers due to the fact that he’s engaged to Taylor Wethersby (Natasha Henstridge), the daughter of firm co-founder Jordan Wethersby (Victor Garber). The type of cases Eli takes on change dramatically after the visions begin, as does Jordan’s attitude toward Eli when he breaks up with Taylor because of the aneurysm, but Jordan nonetheless continues to tolerate Eli’s eccentricities due to the financially lucrative cases he continues to win. The change in Eli’s attitude is noticed by his co-workers, including the egotistical Matt Dowd (Sam Jaeger), but the one who matters most to Eli is the cute-as-a-button Maggie Decker (Julie Gonzalo).
Certainly, when selecting highlights of the various episodes, Eli’s visions are always near the top of the list, and anyone who has been skeptical of dramas being able to incorporate song-and-dance numbers into their proceedings needs to see how it’s done here. The visions are unquestionably integral to the plots, but “Eli Stone” takes its viewers on a voyage into faith, painting Eli as a possible prophet, receiving his visions from a higher power. Skeptics, however, will see the effects that these visions have on his life, such as how he ruins his engagement party by entering a vision of being in combat during wartime and waking up as he’s crawling through the cake, and wonder what kind of higher power would torture someone like this. The cases tried by the various attorneys within Wethersby, Posner, and Klein are fascinating as well, expanding beyond the tried and true and getting into controversial territories like a lawsuit over whether childhood vaccines might be a cause of autism, or a case where a man’s marriage is annulled while he’s in a coma and demands the opportunity to have it overturned.
In truth, there’s so much to “Eli Stone” that even a multi-paragraph review can’t do it proper justice; the best I can do is suggest that open-minded television viewers give it a chance. It’s a sometimes-funny, sometimes-tear-jerking, but always-emotional journey through the life of a man who may or may not be a prophet. Whatever the truth behind the man known as Eli Stone, however, his story is one of the most original to be found on network television in many a moon. It is not to be missed.
Special Features: Given the amount of effort put into the series itself, it should be no surprise that the producers went out of their way to provide the show’s fans with as much bonus material as possible. There’s an extended version of the pilot with audio commentary, deleted scenes, bloopers and four featurettes, including looks at the creation of the show, the inclusion of George Michael as a character in the series, the process in creating one of Eli’s visions and a tour of the law firm by Natasha Henstridge.