Friday, April 18, 2008

Eli Stone: Feeling good

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?


Unknown said...

I really liked the finale. I would agree with you that some elements are better than others (for example: why must Maggie be such a dumbass? the law stuff is so hinky, etc.), but this episode really kind of had everything working for me. It's a good end whether this is the finale of the show forever or for now. The way they worked Eli's dream case vs. reality was excellent.

I also have to say that George Michael as muse really worked for me, and it was nice he showed up in as many episodes as he did, vision-y or not. I do hope it comes back sometime, though I wonder what they will do without the aneurysm if it does.

Anonymous said...

What really bothered me about last night's "Eli Stone" -- similar to what bothers me about most episodes, although there are also parts of them that I enjoy -- is that the entire, very well-written Richard Schiff trial was just part of his coma dream. It didn't "really" happen, so what was the point? Sure, it reflected a lot of what Eli was going through personally, but then why not have it occur before he went under the knife? (And, man, that was an awfully specific dream.)

The whole thing seemed like a wrap-up to the series as a whole. If it does come back, they've gotten to the point where Eli is accepted as someone whose fantasies reflect a hidden reality or predict the future. (I'm assuming they're not taking that away, despite the surgery, since without it there'd be no show.) So he's pretty much in the same boat as Alison on "Medium."

I will say that, while this show is definitely a David E. Kelley clone, the trial scenes have been far less annoyingly preachy than "Boston Legal"'s have become. And the fact that the two women Eli has been ping-ponging between are among the most beautiful actresses in show business doesn't hurt, either.

Anonymous said...

Please sign :)

Matt said...

Schiff was great (as he always is), but the show desperately needs someone to come in and ground the legal cases a little more in reality (not so much the cases themselves, but the procedure and legal background), which will help the show, and if they're turning Garber's character into a softie, they need to bring Tom Amandes back full-time to serve as a foil. Since the show's gotten decent ratings and fits into ABC's "suck up to creative forces as much as possible!" strategy (Berlanti, Shonda, J.J., and David E. Kelley have all been beneficiaries of this one at various times in the past), I expect it to be back. Also, it would pair well with "Pushing Daisies," I think.

Grunt said...

I was very disappointed in the first 4 or 5 episodes of the show, until they finally had Eli reveal his condition to everyone. Before that it was a little to "I Love Lucy" for my taste.

That being said the last 4 episodes were, I thought, impressively good. We're beginning to get a good sense of the secondary characters (except for Maggie, but I'll get to that in a moment).

There are two items I consistantly have an issue with. The first one is (as someone previously said) the complete lack of understanding of how the law works.

Look, I understand that there is no recognition on TV law firms between personal and corporate law. I have no idea why a family lawyer would join a large law firm, I don't understand why they would have a criminal lawyer either (BigLaw, as it is known, pretty much works exclusively for corporations. They're the ones who can pay the bills) but they could at least get the basic civil proceedure down. They really need a decent legal consultant. I mean I can get over the fact that Eli had a huge partner office when he was an 8th year associate, or that when they demoted him they gave him a desk and not an associate office (which would breach the priveldge requirement...can't have important crap sitting out where anyone can see it), or that an 8th year associate seems to have a secretary all to himself (trust me, that doesn't happen even when you are a partner) but all together, it just doesn't ring true.

Now for Maggie. I understand she's supposed to be quirky, but she's actually unprofessional. First year associates do not seek out assignments, they are given them. She dresses unprofessionally (this was particularly apparent when everyone was surrounding Eli's sick bed dressed in conservative suits and there was Maggie in an electric blue cocktail dress.) She makes legal mistakes that she should not make. I don't have an issue with a young associate having a relationship with a senior one, but her behavior would have gotten her fired.

All that said, none of the current problems are insurmountable (sp?) and I am looking forward to the show getting a pick-up so we can see if Eli continues to see the future now that he's had the surgery.

Matt said...

I work in Biglaw, and my firm has a pretty decent-sized "private clients" group which does work for (typically very wealthy) individuals like estate planning and the like. We also have several criminal lawyers who focus on white-collar crime. Indeed, as an associate, I've worked on a contested divorce matter for an actual paying client. They've actually been pretty good on that on the show--most cases either have an express connection to someone with a lot of money (be it representing the developer in the land case or having George Michael pay the bills), are expressly mentioned as being pro bono, or are being done for the media attention. Heck, Wachtell, which defines Biglaw, is representing Judy Kaye in the judicial pay suit, which is almost as weird as anything you'd see on TV.

Unknown said...

I suppose. I worked at Biglaw for a while (I'm in-house now...yeay!)and none of the firms I worked at had substantive non-corporate clients. The last one did have a white collar crime section and did some T&E work for the wealthy, but they were hardly the core of the firm (3 people in each group out of 1500 lawyers world wide) and, more to the point, you never heard about them. In addition we all know that white collar defense is very different from working in the Public Defender's office which is where one guy came from.

And also, another legal gripe which I forgot to put in my last post, all of this Chinese Wall crap, with the same firm representing both sides, that part really sticks in my craw because I can not imagine a single judge allowing it to happen and it would allow for tremendous liability for the firm.

jcpbmg said...

regardless of what show Schiff's in or what character he plays, he still manages to always have the same type of wardrobe (which always puts me in the mood for pie)

Anonymous said...

I love this show, and have from the beginning. I also missed a couple episodes (notably, the one where Eli and the paralegal kiss), but I still managed to love the show from episode one. I really hope it comes back next season (given the fact that Journeyman - another favorite - is not ever coming back).

Anonymous said...

My husband passed away 16 months ago. A couple of weeks prior to his death he told everyone who would listen about this near death experience he had. He said it was the most beautiful feeling he had ever had. Richard Schiff indicated the same thing in his speech and it gave me such comfort. I have been trying to find out where I could get a copy of that particular scene, or even the script. Anyplace I have tried only streams to the U.S. and I live in Canada. Any suggestions?

micheal said...

I also have to say that George Michael as muse really worked for me, and it was nice he showed up in as many episodes as he did, vision-y or not. I do hope it comes back sometime, though I wonder what they will do without the aneurysm if it does.What really bothered me about last night's "Eli Stone" -- similar to what bothers me about most episodes, although there are also parts of them that I enjoy -- is that the entire, very well-written Richard Schiff trial was just part of his coma dream.