February 7, 2008 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | TV | February 7, 2008 |


As initially bummed as I was about the writer’s strike (and still, I feel for the actual writers), I’ve found the sudden disappearance of scripted television strangely liberating. In combination with the end of the NFL and SEC seasons, I’ve inexplicably found that there’s more time in the day. I’ve re-watched the entire run of “The Wire,” finally got around to watching season one of “Mad Men,” and even found some time left over in my day to watch my son grow up. It’s amazing how much of your life you get back when you’ve given up “American Idol,” and stopped trying to keep up with the mediocre storylines pumping like deoxygenated blood through the television season. In fact, if and when scripted TV returns, I’ve privately vowed to give my TiVo a break for at least the remainder of this 2007-2008 television season; I’m going to limit myself to seven hours of current programming per week. The accumulating entries on my TiVo’s “Now Playing” list has become burdensome, and I really like the idea of watching only shows that I love, instead of the ones that I feel some strange loyalty obligation too, which means goodbye to “Nip/Tuck, “Heroes,” “Reaper,” “Grey’s” and maybe even “Chuck” — shows that have outlasted their entertainment usefulness.

That doesn’t mean I won’t give any new shows a chance, it just means that — to warrant season-pass status — a show has to be good enough to knock off the weakest hour of my current seven: the “My Name is Earl” and “How I Met Your Mother” block. And after suffering through the pilot episode of “Eli Stone,” I can safely say that Ted, Barney, and Robin, et. al, have nothing to fear — I only wish that Marshall could reserve a couple of those slaps for the Greg Berlanti (“Dirty Sexy Money,” “Everwood”), for bringing this hurltastic legal drama to the small screen.

“Eli Stone” stars Jonny Lee Miller as the title character, which ought to be your first clue that the show is about as fun to watch as a punch to a full bladder (no offense to fans of Hackers and Sick Boy, but the otherwise charming, panty-moistening Miller has a losing streak that the Miami Dolphins would snicker at). The second: That the pilot not only includes a cameo by George Michael, but the show thematically revolves around the song, “Faith,” and subsequent episodes are all named after George Michael songs (“Freedom,” “Father Figure” “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go,” etc.), suggesting the same thematic conceit — a gimmick with all the staying power of the control group in a Cialis study. And the third: It’s about as heavy-handed as a fistful of uranium, more ham-fisted than a busy pig farmer, and hokier than a Mitch Albom book club. Not to mention the fact that there’s enough manufactured (read: fake) quirk and whimsy to puncture your gag reflex.

Eli is a corporate lawyer in San Francisco forced to defend mean companies who do mean things. That is, until he comes down with a nasty case of brain tumor (a genetic gift from Dad), starts having visions (including George Michael singing on his coffee table), hears pop songs in his head, and falls under the delusion that he’s a goddamn prophet of some sort (hence the song, “Faith,” assuming you can ignore the non-spiritual lyrics, “If I could touch your body / I know not everybody / has a body like you.” Under the influence of his tumor, Eli takes the cases his visions tell him to, which means defending nice people that have fallen victim to the mean companies he normally defends. His asshole of a boss (Victor Garber … oh, Victor), who also happens to be his fiancĂ©e’s (Natasha Henstridge) father, is the show’s money-grubbing cynic, who’d rather Eli stick to defending the mean companies who give them all that green. There’s also a Chinese acupuncturist and a sassy black secretary (Loretta Devine, who always is [sic]) to round out the cast, as well as Thomas Cavanagh (“Ed”), as Eli’s dead father in flashbacks (it’s a testament to how bad this show is that I can’t get behind it despite Cavanagh’s presence, as he’s typically my bad-show kryptonite).

In the first episode, Eli begins as the defendant for a company that manufactures a vaccine that (allegedly) contains enough mercury in it to cause autism (there’s apparently some real-life controversy involved in this storyline, but it’s not worth mentioning. Really.) However, under the influence of his brain tumor, and swayed by the karmic coincidence that the plaintiff also took Eli’s virginity in 1991 (while “Faith” was playing!), he decides to switch sides by creating a Chinese Wall within the firm to snuff out any conflicts of interest (law people out there know just how obviously ridiculous this is, but I won’t let my law degree coupled with a small dose of common sense taint what is otherwise a brilliant plot line!). But, before he decides to take his devirginizer’s case, there’s also the “Cop Rock” -like dance number to, of course, “Faith.” Expectedly, it all leads up to a routine courtroom fight (“Faith” is central to the closing argument) with all the dramatic tension of “Will It Float” (the good guy wins! the good guy wins! and a one-gallon bottle of shellac floats).

I’ll concede that I have a bit of hard-on for quirky legal dramas — David E. Kelley’s legal shows get a season out of me sight unseen. Hell, I endured all five seasons of “Ally McBeal” (yeah: Even the last one, with Jon Bon Jovi and Hayden Panettiere as Ally’s adopted daughter). But, I tolerated Ally and that goddamn dancing baby because of my fondness for Richard Fish and John Cage, which is why I am so thankful that new iterations of Fish and Cage are now the leads in “Boston Legal,” played with considerable more aplomb by William Shatner and James Spader. And on “Boston Legal,” they get to be the stars, while the quirky, obnoxious, circus-acts (save for the brilliant John Laroquette) remain on the periphery of the show. “Eli Stone,” conversely, is like a version of”Ally McBeal” where Calista Flockhart is the only character with any screen time: It’s just a series of fantasy sequences and enough obnoxious cutesiness to make “Pushing Daisies” (a show I like) seem positively hardboiled. Worse: If the first episode is any indication, the show doesn’t even try to respect the legal system, which as far as I’m concerned, is a deal breaker for legal dramas, especially ones as hopelessly silly as “Eli Stone.”

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.

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"Eli Stone" / Dustin Rowles

TV | February 7, 2008 | Comments ()



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