Studio: ABC Studios
US Rating: Not Rated
Film Length: 559 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: Optional French and Spanish
The Show - out of
Patti: "How do you explain the last two months? The cases he's taken? What he's done right before, and since, he dumped you?"
Taylor Wethersby: "Maybe because he's sick?"
Patti: "Or... maybe *now* he's better.”
Eli Stone is not your typical courtroom drama. Eli Stone is not your typical comedy show. In fact, Eli Stoneis not your typical show at all. It is a super sensitive, silly and special effects salted show that combines ‘higher power’ overtones with an edgier sense of humor than outward appearances would indicate. It has a broad and warm appeal and isn’t that easy to categorize. While much of the show’s internal drama and courtroom fights are right out of the modern TV drama playbook, the ‘visions’ twist of the show creates an interesting lens to see these familiar plot ideas through and a mystery to enjoy along the way.
Eli Stone was a high powered lawyer in a high-powered law firm that comfortably represents the big guys when they are sued by the little guys. This first rate ‘Goliath’ lawyer lives a high-powered life and is engaged to another high-powered lawyer. His life was exactly the way he wanted it to be. Or so he believed. When he begins seeing strange ‘visions’, that begin with George Michael singing ‘Faith’ in his ear, his living room and eventually in his law-firm, he begins to see the world a little differently. Fate, the voice of God, some other divine intervention or delusions caused by a brain aneurysm appear to be nudging Eli onto a different path, away from an ego-driven and ruthless lifestyle to a caring, empathic and benevolent life. He does not easy play the cards that life has now dealt him. He does not understand it; he does not comfortably believe it and he certainly does not enjoy the title ‘prophet’ that his feisty acupuncturist friend frequently hangs above him. But the change in his life leaves a significant mark, turns his world upside down and he begins to make a difference in the lives of strangers and those close to him.
The title character is played by the English Jonny Lee Miller (using a convincing American accent), who provides a winning performance with a sly sense of wit and heart. In the beginning, he is convincing as the self-serving lawyer and we enjoy his transition into a man driven to serve as a philanthropically inclined soul. Miller is surrounded by a good cast which include Loretta Divine as his (somewhat routinely written) ‘sassy’ assistant, the gorgeous Natasha Henstridge showing off some dramatic chops as Taylor Wethersby, the love interest to Eli Stone, James Saito as his acupuncturist Dr. Chen, Matt Letscher as Eli’s brother Nathan and Victor Garber as Eli’s boss (and Taylor’s dad). Each brings an immediate stability to the role, at ease with the characters they inhabit and with very little ‘growing into it’ needed.
Eli Stone is a rare show that can be dramatically succinct, tug at the heart strings and break into full out musical numbers that serve the story in a matter of minutes. It enjoys a quirky sense of humor that works and never falls flat and combining sarcasm, a little slapstick and often elaborate special effects to bring about a different sensibility to what is essentially a legal drama. Some faint similarities exist between this show and the absurdist tendencies of David E Kelly’s enormously entertaining Boston Legal, but in no way is Eli Stone derivative. The show is easy to like and the characters easier to become engrossed in, particularly the lead of Eli. With generous amounts of heart, it is rich in spirit and ideals without falling victim to pandering to the audience and our often innate sense of something greater.
Set in San Francisco (but filmed in Los Angeles), it has a look and feel unlike other shows on television. Again, reminiscent of Boston Legal and how that show uses the great city of Boston to add a flavor that gets lost on most shows set on the east coast. The peaks and valleys of the lovely San Francisco landscape is used well, with its color and layers visually interesting
Topped off with great tunes including numbers by British pop/rock acts like ‘Starsailor’, and featuring a few fun nods of the hat to great shows and movies in the dialogue or from the visual effects (like the fun North by Northwest homage), Eli Stone delivered a wonderfully strong first season. A highlight of this season, creatively and dramatically, is the season finale that experiments with perspective and timeline to deliver an emotionally deep and intellectually satisfying conclusion to its freshman run.
3: Father Figure
4: Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go
5: One More Try
6: Something To Save
7: Heal The Pain
8: Praying For Time
9: I Want Your Sex
12: Waiting For The Day
13: Soul Free
While overall the image quality is good in this 1.78:1 presentation (enhanced for widescreen televisions), with a pretty sharp and colorful image – it also has plenty of distractions, fuzz around edges and noise in the lighter areas on screen. The many visual effects used in the show are noticeable, but not in a way that detracts from the story. Many seem to have a glow about them that, to me, add a little to the unknown origin of the visions they were created for.
The widescreen presentation is warm and bright, fitting of the shows ideas and is perfectly acceptable. The distractions easily fade as the stories progress, but some might find the distractions linger more than others.
Eli Stone comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound audio track that delivers quite nicely. The audio is free from any defects that I could hear, produces dialogue cleanly in the center channel and has a real pulse in the musical numbers. George Michael’s performances of key songs come with a real thump in the bass. The surrounds aren’t extensively used but when they are, they produce a good effect supporting the action onscreen.
Audio Commentary for ‘Soul Free’ (season finale) by Cast & Crew – A good commentary track kept moving by the large number of folks contributing who share anecdotes, appreciation and sincere interest in the purpose and nature of the show.
Extended Pilot Episode with Audio Commentary by Cast & Crew) – This ‘extended’ episode adds a few extra minutes (clocking in at 46:01) and is a nice to have to accompany the aired pilot. Additional scenes are few and include moments between Eli and his fiancée Taylor and a closing argument made by Matt Dowd (played by Sam Jaeger). The commentary is a fun listen, as the cast and crew add revealing notes on the production, the use of visual effects and getting to know the characters.
Deleted Scenes - (8:01) – Seven deleted scenes from the 13 episodes of season one which include a fun argument between Eli and Matt and a conversation between Dr. Chen and Eli on suing God.
Eli Oops! (Bloopers)- (3:29) –A fun few minutes of the actors flubbing lines and cutting up on set
Acting On Faith: Eli and George Michael - (4:33) – A look at how the Eli Stone welcomed George Michael and how the show has incorporated him and his music and songs in a very real way.
Turning A Prophet: The Creation of Eli Stone - (12:13) – A quite familiar look behind the scenes featurette as the actors describe taking on the roles, speak of their fellow actors and have a little fun. The show’s creators talk a little about what they wanted in the show and we get to see footage as the actors are filming scenes.
Creating Visions: The Effects of Eli Ston - (5:35) – A look at how the show extensively uses special effects in fun, bold and also quite often subtle ways. Comparisons between the green screen dailies and the final effects are good and we get a closer look at a scene from the earthquake episode – blending CGI with filmed physical element footage.
Inside The Firm: The Natasha Henstridge Tour - (4:58) – Ms. Henstridge takes us on a tour of the incredible set used for the WPK law offices. I could be wrong, but this looks a lot like the Wolfram & Heart law office set from the final season of Angel
This is a show that is almost impossible not to fall quickly in love with. The first season has only a few freshman growing pains, but easily remains dramatically taut and inline with the cleverness and warmth of the pilot. It is of special note that Julie Gonzalo, who plays Maggie Dekker on the show, won a 2008 ALMA (The American Latino Media Arts) Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Television Series for her role, which I am sure will not be the last award this show garners as it grows.
I very much recommend this season for genuine laughs, real heart and for managing to be a distinct lawyer driven show unlike anything else on television which today, is a harder feat than ever.