Premierewatch: 'Eli Stone'

Johnnyleemiller_elistone_240 This is Eli Stone. He's a lawyer in a schmancy San Francisco firm who's spent his life worshipping Armani, accessories and ambition. He has a beautiful fiancée who happens to be his boss's daughter. His life's going great. And when we meet him, he's freezing in his Armani suit in the Himalayas, asking two sherpas to take his picture. And he tells us that he recently found out he could be a prophet.

Shoutin' it from the mountaintop... spoilers ahead...

Twelve years of Catholic school taught me to be immediately suspicious of anyone throwing around the word "prophet." Particularly when one of the things that's made Eli question whether or not he's destined for bigger things is the fact that he hears -- and sees -- George Michael. And in this case, he's singing "Faith" (and looking mighty age-defyingly good -- is he drinking the blood of babies or something?).

Yeah, I know. George Michael. And it's fanciful, and you're being asked to suspend disbelief, and Pushing Daisies already kind of has a monopoly on the quirky/fun-loving thing. So what? Go along with it. A show that's this charmingly acted and snappily written is worth giving a shot.

Eli (Jonny Lee Miller) is representing a big pharmaceutical company that's being sued by a woman who contends that a preservative in its flu shot caused her son's autism. He pushes the original $60,000 settlement offer to $90,000 and urges her to take it --- all the while hearing the more talented half of Wham! singing in his head. The song follows him, driving him to distraction while in flagrante with his fiancée, Taylor (Natasha Henstridge). He goes to the living room, sees George Michael dancing around on his coffee table, and promptly passes out. Of course you expected that. But if I get up tonight and find Simon LeBon swiveling his hips on my coffee table and singing " Rio," I'm going over like a lead balloon.

He goes to the doctor --- his brother, in fact --- for an MRI, which comes up empty. Meanwhile, Beth, the plaintiff in his lawsuit (Laura Benanti), shows up at his office, asking him to represent her. Big, fat conflict of interest. He turns her down. Then, after a visit to acupuncturist Dr. Chen (James Saito), it dawns on him who this woman is: his First. From college --- UCLA, 1991; she was Lizzie then. He confronts her at home. Their interaction is quick and believable as she's 'fessing up to being The One and reasoning that it wasn't a big deal because they were stoned on pot brownies. He meets her son, Ben, who's stacking hundreds of wooden letter blocks in the living room --- in which Eli sees a message: "Make peace George Michael." Words to live by.

Eli works hard to convince his boss/father-in-law to be (Victor Garber, one of the hardest-workin' men in showbiz) that he should take the case and represent the plaintiff --- it'll make them rich, and the firm can reap both the public relations and financial rewards. Next hallucination, which begins during this conversation: a cable car in the lobby. Eli flashes back to riding a cable car with his father (Tom Cavanaugh), an unreliable alcoholic whom the entire Stone family (Eli and the Family Stone?) has resented for 20 years. Pops gives young Eli a postcard of mountain peaks in India, to remind him that "you're meant to do great things, son. You're going to go to beautiful places and speak inspiring words --- you are going to help people."

The upshot: Eli goes back to the doctor, and finds out he has an inoperable brain aneurysm, which may be the cause of his hallucinations --- and inherited from his father. Along with feeling the ensuing guilt about his dad, Eli starts reexamining his life. And being confused by Taylor's panicked reaction to the diagnosis: "I don't know if I can do this, Eli."

In court, Eli may be a shark of a litigator, but he does have ethics and a heart. He refuses to use, even though he knows about, an internal study by the company acknowledging that the vaccine preservative could be dangerous --- obtained by his assistant, Patti (Loretta Devine), with whom he has a plucky, West Wingy relationship that brings some of the show's best lines (see below).

The plaintiff triumphs after Eli gets the CEO to admit he requested that his child not receive his company's vaccine, and after he gives a great summation, all about --- you guessed it --- faith. As in, having faith that a big enough judgment against Big Pharma will make them do the right thing and take the chemical out of their vaccine --- and faith that the jury will find for the plaintiff. They do, to the tune of $5.2 million, and the company agrees to remove the preservative.

Taylor comes back and apologizes for her shaky reaction, and in the end, a now properly parka-ed up Eli goes to India to scatter his father's ashes. Which are in a coffee can his mother (Pamela Reed) gave him. Closure at last. Happiness ensues. And it's surprisingly touching.

A lot happens in this episode --- there's a lot to establish. But there's also a lot in there --- including some very relatable performances, particularly by Miller, and just enough quirk.

A little flavor:

"Not to be a prude, Eli, but I've got a deposition at 8 tomorrow morning, so could we forego the role playing this one time?" --- Taylor, when Eli gets up to find George Michael in the living room.

"Stress can give you premature grays, it doesn't make legendary British pop stars sing their greatest hits from your couch." --- Eli to his brother when they're trying to diagnose his hallucinations.

"Who is it this time? Cyndi Lauper? Billy Joel? The Go-Go's?" --- Patti, when Eli hears the cable car.

"Don't whisper yell at me!" --- Patti, when an appalled Eli refuses to use the pharmaceutical company's study.

"You wouldn't happen to have any needles for my inoperable brain aneurism that I inherited from my alcoholic father who I wrongly hated for 20 years?" --- Eli to Dr. Chen after the conclusive diagnosis

"Oh, that totally blows bro." --- Dr. Chen in response.

What did you think? Would you take a George Michael vision seriously, or would it have to be someone else? Did you find this a relief after "reality"?

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