Eli Stone is a typical corporate lawyer. He admits to being totally self-involved and greedy, that is until he begins to see and hear things that aren’t really there… or are they. These visions appear to be connected with events unfolding in Stone’s life and seem to be leading him toward a mission of sorts. It could be helping a mother whose child was stricken by a harmful vaccine or helping a convict fight prison abuse. In the pilot, Stone discovers that he has a brain aneurism, which might account for the vivid visions he is experiencing. His mentor, Dr. Chen, has another idea. He believes that Stone is being recruited by God as a prophet to help with the world’s injustices. As viewers we’re never quite certain exactly what to believe. What we know is that, like most prophets, the situation isn’t exactly working out great for Stone’s life. He loses his hot fiancée and most of his coworkers see him as some kind of a kook. Of course, it wouldn’t make good television if these visions didn’t often come at the most inopportune moments. He could be in a meeting with an important firm client or involved in the more intimate activities when he’ll hear strange music or see fire breathing dragons. Because the visions are so realistic, Stone can’t help but react to them, even when he knows they’re not real. This leads to many of the show’s awkward moments, as that gag gets old very quickly. There’s entirely too much office romance here as well.
The show’s true bright spot is in a very smart cast. Jonny Lee Miller is actually pretty good in the role. Considering he has to act against a lot of blue screen, he manages to come across quite believable. He doesn’t always do a great job of hiding his own English accent, but I can forgive him that much. Victor Garber is absolutely brilliant as Jordan Wethersby, the firm’s senior partner and his fiancée’s father. I seem to like this guy in every role he’s played, particularly in Alias. His almost deadpan seriousness is a great compliment to the over the top shenanigans that make up the greater part of the show. He’s the anchor that keeps the show “real”. Natasha Henstridge shows less of herself than she did when debuting in Species, but gets to show off her acting chops instead of her body. The body’s a little better, but she does a solid job here as “daddy’s little girl” and Stone’s on again off again romantic interest. James Saito is another huge stand out as Dr. Chen, Stone’s Spiritual advisor and mentor. He can be funny and straight all at the same time. Hands down my favorite character here. Sam Jaeger is Matt Dowd, Stone’s office rival. Boston Legal’s Loretta Devine plays Stone’s secretary and provides the comic wisecracks much as she did in the previous show. In fact, isn’t this the same character, Loretta? Honestly this cast might have been better served in a straight courtroom drama with better staying power.
Eli Stone is part of an ever growing trend of quirky characters placed in more realistic situations. The show is a combination of Monk and The Dead Zone. It’s obvious from the start that we’re not really supposed to take Stone’s world all that seriously. Certainly the show attempts to address important social issues, but it does become increasingly difficult to tackle the tear jerking material with biplanes flying through your boardroom. Unfortunately the writers just can’t help throwing in their liberal zingers that have made such otherwise excellent shows as Boston Legal become tiresome after too long. They are entitled to their opinions, but is it necessary to drop such overt statements into nearly every episode of the show? I gotta believe these guys are secretly hoping John McCain wins in November. If he doesn’t, who the hell are they going to make fun of then? Politics aside, the show has its moments, but I really don’t see a huge run down the road for Eli Stone. The ratings were marginal at best in a year where a writers strike made many of us desperate for anything that wasn’t reality television. I would be surprised if the show makes it through its sophomore season, barring divine intervention.
Each episode of Eli Stone is presented in a sweet 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The show appears overly bright at times. I guess it fits in with the fantastic elements, but I think it’s a bit much at times. For such a recent production, the colors are a bit soft and muted. You’ll even notice grain here that rarely appears in recent television. I’ll be curious to see how the show looks during an HD broadcast, but I found this release a little disappointing. Black levels are barely average, supplying little detail. There is also abundant compression artifact here as well. Not one of ABC’s best efforts.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is not as immersive as the material might suggest. I was hoping for some use of a full spectrum of ambient sounds to lift us into Stone’s visions. Dialog comes through just fine, so I guess it’s not all that bad, but wow, was there a wasted opportunity here.
Selected episodes feature an Audio Commentary with actors and cast. Some like “I Want Your Sex”, is too crowded with 9 participants.
Extended Pilot: As far as I can tell there was about 3-4 minutes added here. It might have served the release, and disc compression, for that matter, if these scenes were merely added as deleted.
Turning Prophet – The Creation Of Eli Stone: I guess I expected this 12 minute feature to be about the evolution of the character, but it’s really far more inclusive. The cast and some crew talk about all of the major actors and their characters. There’s actually little discussion about the show’s philosophy or unique style.
Acting On Faith – Eli And George Michael: At under 5 minutes this feature looks at George Michael and his contributions to the show. I really find it hard to believe that Victor Garber gets tongue-tied meeting George Michael. All of them remark at what a good actor Michaels is. That might account for the unusually long noses.
Inside The Firm – The Natasha Henstridge Tour: This is exactly what you would expect. Henstridge shows us the sets that make up the firm offices. There are some show clips mixed in for perspective and a time lapse construction bit.
Creating Vision – The Effects Of Eli Stone: Obviously the f/x department is a big part of the visions scenes. This one shows some of the tricks, concentrating mostly on the Taxi transformation from “Waiting For The Day”.
Deleted Scenes: There are 7 with an optional play all. Not really anything terribly big here.
Eli Ooops: About 3 minutes of the typical goofs and mess-ups found in gag reels.
I found the show amusing enough, but I just don’t see it holding attention once the novelty wears off. If you like the fantasy elements, you’re going to be impatient with the reality stuff. If you want a good legal show, you’re going to be put off with the fantastical elements of the show. It appears that a small niche audience exists for the show. Unfortunately that’s the kind of audience that gets a show cancelled. If you think you might be interested, check these discs out now, and then tune in this year when the new season starts. You might not have the luxury of time here. “That’s one interpretation.”