Spoilers for the "Eli Stone" season (series?) finale coming up just as soon as I tell George Michael that he's just been voted out of "American Idol"...
You may recall that I wasn't very impressed with "Eli Stone" when it debuted back in January. I thought it fell too close to the David E. Kelley quirky-for-quirkiness'-sake school of legal drama, and that a lot of the production and acting choices (the tinkly music, Jonny Lee Miller's mugging in the fantasy sequences) were designed to protect the audience from the real emotional implications of some very dark material.
And yet... I kept watching. I missed an episode here or there, but between my DVR and the ABC website, I'd guess I saw at least 10 of the 13 episodes. Some of my perseverance came from the lack of other scripted options when the show first debuted, but just as much came from my faith in co-creator Greg Berlanti, and in Berlanti's skills as a producer. Even when he was making a show I wasn't that happy with, it was a very watchable show that I wasn't very happy with, you know?
It would be a simple feel-good narrative to say that, over these 13 episodes, "Eli Stone" went from show that drove me nuts to show I loved, but the transformation wasn't quite that pure or dramatic. Where, say, "Journeyman" (also about a San Francisco man who develops fantasic powers he's not sure whether to believe in), had completely figured itself by the time it came to the end of its 13 episode run, "Eli Stone" wrapped up last night still very much in transition. Parts of the show had gotten much better over time, but others still drove me nuts
As with "Journeyman," it took the producers four or five episodes to realize that things would be much more entertaining if their hero began to treat his fantastic new circumstances/powers as a fact of life. The scenes where Eli would randomly dive at the floor or scream at people to get out of the way of the oncoming biplane/dragon/thermonuclear warhead got old, fast, and the show was the better for Eli developing the abilty to realize he was having a vision/hallucination almost as soon as each one began.
In addition, I think Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and company began to trust the material more, and to trust in the audience's willingness to accept it without sugarcoating and wacky humor and cutesie-poo music. I quite enjoyed, for instance, the episode where Eli helped the real estate mogul win an eminent domain case in hopes of saving the neighborhood's residents from an earthquake that didn't materialize (in that episode, anyway; we finally got it in Sunday's episode).
And even though last Thursday's prison abuse storyline had to get paired with a story where two of the other lawyers petitioned to reunite a pair of gay chimps (again, can't have too much darkness) the scenes in the prison story itself were taken very seriously.
I'm not saying "Eli Stone" should have been wall-to-wall with the doom and gloom. Sure, Eli's visions apparently came from a brain aneurysm, but the point was that the potentially fatal condition had given new purpose to his life, a warmer personality, a happier outlook, etc. I get that, and I think Berlanti's work when he's at his best ("Everwood," particularly) does a fine job balancing the silly with the tragic. I just felt like "Eli Stone," especially early on, but at various points throughout the season, was afraid of itself, afraid that if it dwelled too long on the emotional truth of a storyline and the pain its characters might be in, if it didn't immediately cut away to something goofier that was accompanied by lots of light piano, that people might not want to watch it.
And when I watched the finale last night -- in particular, the scene where the Richard Schiff character explains to Eli in no uncertain terms why he doesn't want another round of chemo -- I began to think that Berlanti and Guggenheim had stopped being afraid. The music numbers don't do anything for me either way, but overall that was an hour of a TV show I would want to watch for more than just professional curiosity and blind faith in the guy running things.
What did everybody else think?