Tuesday, 7 October 2008

ELI STONE 1.1 - "Faith"

Tuesday, 7 October 2008
Writers: Greg Berlanti & Marc Guggenheim
Director: Ken Olin

Cast: Jonny Lee Miller (Eli Stone), Natasha Henstridge (Taylor Wethersby), Laura Benanti (Beth Keller), James Saito (Dr. Chen), Matt Letscher (Nathan Stone), Victor Garber (Jordan Wethersby), George Michael (Himself), Sam Jaeger (Matt Dowd), Loretta Devine (Patti), Jodi Long (Judge Marcia Phelps), Tom Amandes (Martin Posner), John Prosky (Alan Cook), Johnny Pacar (Eli, age 19), Justin Lieberman (Eli, age 12), Barbara Niven (Mrs. Wethersby), Megan Paul (Young Beth Keller), Phil Abrams (Hapless Man), Gokul (Sherpa #1), Natch Narasimhan (Sherpa #2), Shawn Carter Peterson (Jury Foreperson), William Topputo (Ben), Pamela Reed (Lenore Stone), Thomas Cavanagh (Mr. Stone) & Paul Ganus (Hurried Man)

"Are you breaking up with me? Because I was just
diagnosed with a brain aneurysm and that would
be really bad timing on your part."
-- Eli Stone (Jonny Lee Miller)

Another character touched by God in a US drama; and another US drama where the lead is played by a Briton. Jonny Lee Miller channels Matthew Broderick to play Eli Stone, an up-and-coming San Francisco lawyer who starts hearing organ music that eventually escalates into full-blown hallucinations of George Michael singing "Faith".

Eli Stone can't not remind you of Ally McBeal; another lightweight legal drama where the protagonist regularly imagined and interacted with silly, funny visions. The main difference is that Eli's hallucinations are given a semblance of explanation: they're the symptoms of an inherited brain aneurysm, according to his doctor brother Nathan (Matt Letscher). But could he be a "prophet", as his acupuncturist Dr. Chen (James Saito) suggests?

Away from the signature hallucinations or people/objects from Eli's past, the court case storyline is fairly engaging -- mainly because of its controversial inference that autism might be caused by mercury-based preservatives. Here, Eli agrees to help Beth Keller (Laura Benanti) sue a big pharmaceutical company she claims gave her son autism with a common vaccine, despite the fact he doesn’t envisage winning. But his George Michael vision pushes him into accepting the case, anyway -- once he notices the spooky coincidences that Beth was the woman he lost his virginity to (with a George Michael album playing in the background), and her son bizarrely spells out "GEORGE MICHAEL" with letter blocks.

Jonny Lee Miller is quite likeable, and this pilot episode aimed to make him an attractive and non-threatening lure for any women watching. Considering Miller dated Angelina Jolie for many years in the '90s, you can't really argue about the credibility of him having Natasha Henstridge as a girlfriend either. Sadly, Henstridge's presence barely registers until she's required to be horribly tactless upon hearing about Eli's aneurysm. I don't like her already. Laura Benanti displayed twice the appeal as a love-match and had some chemistry with Miller, so why not slot her into the love-interest role?

Overall, the idea of a nice-guy lawyer helping the little man defeat corporate types, to keep his intermittently helpful visions at bay, isn't a bad one. The series has made it to a second season in the US (no mean feat in today's media-saturated climate), so mass audiences clearly found something to enjoy here. There was nothing here that really connected with me, though. I found it all rather forgettable and lightweight, with no characters really standing out.

6 October 2008
Sci-Fi Channel, 9pm