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 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? Politics aside, the show has its moments, but I never really saw a huge run down the road for Eli Stone. I said I would be surprised if the show made it through its sophomore season, barring divine intervention. Looks like I was right. It’s a bizarre concept that just never really found its place. I suspect it will find a home as a kind of cult favorite and likely a launching pad for its stars, particularly Miller.
I really can’t find a whole lot to recommend here. You’ll either love it or hate it. Try renting it or catching the pilot somewhere before you drop any coin on either of these sets. If you find it appealing in a crazy sort of way, then the DVD’s will be a chance to enjoy at least a few hours of the quirky series.
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.
There are 13 episodes on 3 discs. The last two overlap in the case. I hate those. The features are found on disc 3.
Deleted Scenes: There are 3 with an optional play all.
Circular File – Bloopers: About 3 minutes of the typical goofs and mess-ups found in gag reels.
Dancin’ In The Street With The Cast Of Eli Stone: (11:38) A look at the episode that has the cast…well…dancing in the streets. You get the band and cast singers in the recording studio and the street shoot all in this feature.
Good Morning Eli with Sam and Julie: (6:00) This is a small video diary for actors Sam Jaeger and Gonzalo. It’s much more Sam than Julie. Mostly it’s funny little moments as they prepare for their work day on the set.
Eli Stone joins that sophomore writer’s strike curse I’ve spoken about so often. This one might have been gone regardless. I just couldn’t quite get into the very bizarre ravings of these visions. It breaks up the drama and makes the show difficult to break into any kind of pace with. The ratings were never really there, as I’m sure most folks didn’t have the patience to deal with the “out there” aspects of the show any more than I did. I’m sure it had a fan base and that many of those fans were pretty into the show. It’s the kind of series that will hold a rather strong attraction to those that do like it. I’m sure you had that loyal few, but “loyalty doesn’t pay the bills”.