Eli Stone: For Fans Of Fantasy, George Michael, And Maybe Angelina Jolie


If you’re totally disinterested in watching Hillary and Barack duke it out tonight in the final Democratic debate in the primary season, you could tune in instead to ABC’s new “comic drama” Eli Stone. In a nutshell, Stone (played by Angelina ex Jonny Lee Miller) is a big bad lawyer who starts having hallucinations involving George Michael, which subsequently leads him to a doc (also his brother) who informs him that he is suffering from an inoperable brain aneurysm. He then decides to leave his life of corporate intrigue and greed and serve the little people. (And did we mention George Michael?) Anyway, the critics seem somewhat intrigued! See what they have to say, after the jump.

There is really no good reason for “Eli Stone” to be quite as much fun as it is, given that the premise seems spraywashed with earnestness and spun to alienate the atheistic and the greedy….The anti-John Edwards, Eli has contentedly sequestered himself in one of the two Americas — specifically, a vast, honey-colored apartment in downturn-resistant San Francisco — until the Armani suits start to feel itchy….As it turns out Eli has an aneurysm and who knows how long to live. So with his remaining time he decides to switch sides in the class war and represent the squashed and powerless against the avaricious interests of Big Pharma and Bad Agribusiness….This suggested that the series had causes to retail, but it hasn’t felt like television agitprop so far. “Eli Stone” is committed to a quaint, flimsy populism and a kind of 12-step “God is where you find him” spirituality.

— Gina Bellafante, New York Times

Today’s theory: As a reaction to the runaway trend toward unscripted programming, and to distinguish their work from all those so-called reality shows, more and more Hollywood writers (when they aren’t on strike) have been coming up with surreality shows. These series are fictions that have some kind of supernatural or spiritual element, or are just preposterous, fantastic hooey, as far from reality as possible. Tonight’s example: “Eli Stone,” a drama about a lawyer who sees odd things and hears funny music and imagines singer George Michael dancing around on his coffee table. [The show is] fetched far and already limping if not quite lame… Stone’s freakouts are quite generously tolerated by his boss, Jordan Wethersby (the ineffably reliable Victor Garber…Garber is responsible for whatever gravitas the show manages; indeed, he appears to be taking it more seriously than anyone else in the cast, including [lead actor Jonny Lee] Miller.

— Tom Shales, Washington Post

Eli finds his way to Dr. Chen (James Saito), an acupuncturist who puts on a fake Chinese accent for effect and believes that Eli might be a “prophet.” There are two explanations for everything, Chen tells Eli, “the scientific and the divine.” But as is usual in our sentimental world, the divine is given the edge here. Chen’s pidgin injunction to “Make peace George Michael,” for instance, later turns up in a wall of alphabet blocks that a client’s autistic son is building. And the client, who has convinced Eli to take her case — a lawsuit against a vaccine manufacturer represented by his own company — also happens to be the woman to whom he lost his virginity, while a George Michael tape played in the background. Everything is connected. (The episode has drawn protest from the American Academy of Pediatrics over the vaccine-autism link.)

— Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times

The first few episodes of Eli Stone focus on hot-button issues like the possible dangers of vaccination and illegal immigration. Of course, the show tackles these topics with the same drippy bathos Brothers & Sisters uses to digest the war in Iraq. Since Stone is technically a legal drama, there is a winner in every case, but the show is careful not to come down too hard on either side — something that keeps it from being as relevant as it would like. In fact, the show is at its best when it’s the furthest removed from reality. Eli’s hallucinations are deliciously campy… What also helps Eli Stone transcend some of its schlockier moments is its wonderful cast. Miller’s angular face is the perfect canvas to portray the myriad emotional states of his character — from high-strung lawyer-type to sympathetic soul to fragile man-child on the verge of a breakdown. The show doesn’t have nearly as much heart as it’s aiming for, but what it’s got comes from Miller.

— Bobby Hankinson, Houston Chronicle

The show, created by Marc Guggenheim and Greg Berlanti (“Dirty Sexy Money”) ultimately feels so unoriginal. Despite a good cast led by Jonny Lee Miller as Eli, and despite the happy San Francisco setting, “Eli Stone” is a bag of too-familiar tricks. All the hallucinogenic quirkiness – flashes of dancing lawyers and low-flying prop planes – is tired and tiring… And “Eli Stone” is also burdened with an air of the formulaic sanctimony that has doomed Holly Hunter’s “Saving Grace” to triteness, as our morally lost hero is shown the road to goodness like the folks on “Highway to Heaven.” Sometimes, TV makes finding scruples seem as easy as listening to your GPS.

— Matthew Gilbert, Boston Globe

Eli Stone is adorable. Now if it would just stop trying so hard to make us adore it. There are far worse flaws for a TV show to have than a propensity to overwork adorability. But this highly enjoyable mix of faith and fantasy will do better in the long run if it can learn to lay back a bit — like by resisting the urge to put its lead, the instantly likable Jonny Lee Miller, through ever-cuter contortions simply because he’s able to carry them off.

— Robert Bianco, USA Today

Is Greg Berlanti the new David E. Kelley? Translation: Berlanti is the writer-executive producer who just put two very quirky series on ABC: “Dirty Sexy Money” and Thursday’s newest entry, “Eli Stone.” Both shows are odd in that same way that Kelley’s “Boston Legal” and “Ally McBeal” (among many others) played with tone so fearlessly (or recklessly). And the set-in-San Francisco “Eli Stone” is bound to get pigeonholed as a kind of male version of “Ally McBeal” in that the show centers around an eccentric lawyer who blurts out bits of craziness and has more than a few moments of delusion. If Ally had her dancing baby, Eli has his George Michael… Miller is almost reason enough to watch. Like Calista Flockhart in “Ally McBeal,” he’s been tasked with playing a wide spectrum of emotions – cold, hard lawyer; funny, likable boyfriend; quick-witted man on the go; introspective son and brother; and, finally, a man gob-smacked by George Michael. That alone is worth an hour. He’s the secret weapon on “Eli Stone.”

— Tim Goodman, San Francisco Chronicle

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