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Eli Stone: The Complete First Season (2008)

ABC Studios
DVD Released: 9/2/2008

All Ratings out of
Show: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/8/2008

I don't think it's a controversial statement for me to say that the quality of American television often fluctuates. The reason for this could be the copycat nature of the shows. How many lawyer, hospital, or police shows have there been over the years, since TVs inception? So, each season, viewers most likely say to themselves, "Do we need another one of these shows?" The answer is probably no, but they keep coming. And thus, these shows can be easily ignored. This would be a shame if one came along which was offering something different. That's the case with Eli Stone, a lawyer show with a twist.

The titular character in Eli Stone (played by Jonny Lee Miller) is a San Francisco lawyer who seems to have it all. He works for a private firm and specializes in big cases, usually involving corporations. He has a nice apartment and he's engaged to Taylor Wethersby (Natasha Henstridge), who is also a lawyer and just happens to be the daughter of Eli's boss. Yes, Eli's life seems great and then WHAM!, he's seeing George Michael singing in his living room. When Eli realizes that no one else can see this, he consults his brother, Nate (Matt Letscher), a doctor, who finds that Eli has a brain aneurysm. When Eli continues to see and experience visions, he consults an acupuncturist, Dr. Chen (James Saito), who feels that Eli may be a prophet. Eli rejects this notion, but when the visions persist, and they seem to be tied to future events and individuals who need legal help, Eli doesn't know what to think. He begins to reject his old corporate work and accepting cases from ordinary people who need help. This angers his boss, Jordan Wethersby (Victor Garber) and alienates his colleagues, but Eli begins to feel that it may be his destiny.

While watching Lost, I saw the multiple promos for Eli Stone and honestly, I had no interest in the show. It just looked silly. That was because the commercials typically only showed the scenes where Eli is having his visions. So, all that I saw was some guy being chased by a plane or a dragon and again, the show simply didn't look interesting. Having now seen the show, I know that there's a lot more to it.

As noted above, we really don't need another lawyer show. So, it's a good thing that Eli Stone isn't just another lawyer show. The program is a nice mixture of drama, comedy, and science-fiction, and the show works on many levels. On the surface, we have the dramatic law show. Eli and his colleagues get cases ranging from the simple to the absurd, and we get the standard courtroom scenes that we've seen in other shows. Some of these are fairly straight-forward, while others have that "Ah-ha!" moment where the clever lawyer trips up the witness and wins the case. These scenes are good, and some of them are quite emotional, but they aren't much different from what we'd see on other lawyer shows.

The difference comes with Eli's visions. Essentially, he can either see the future, or at times, he can witness a specific character's past. All of the visions eventually become tied to a case that he must try. At first, this seems like a gimmick, and truth be told, it is. It also makes the first few shows incredibly episodic -- Eli has a vision, gets a case, uses vision to win case, etc. However, the show eventually settles down and finds a nice rhythm which balances the visions and Eli's life. This is a man who was on the fast-track to be a partner in the firm and suddenly, he's not only facing his own mortality, but a newfound conscience as well. This puts Eli's job in jeopardy. While I wouldn't call Eli Stone a complex show, it is interesting that the main character is burdened with so much -- this is why it feels like overkill when a villain is added late in the season. Fortunately for us and for Eli, he find solace in Dr. Chen, co-worker Maggie Dekker (Julie Gonzalo), and his brother. Eli's reaction to all of this also creates some nice comedic moments, and any scene with Dr. Chen elicits some laughs. It's interesting to note how the show evolves and the visions stop driving the story, but become a part of Eli's life.

Again, I was pleasantly surprised by Eli Stone. The show is a nice mixture of drama and fantasy, and some of the episodes are very moving. Kudos to Jonny Lee Miller, not only for getting away from Angelina Jolie with his sanity intact, but for carrying this show with a flawless American accent. (Although, he sounds like Matthew Broderick when he gets excited.) The first few episodes are somewhat clunky, and we wonder why Eli doesn't learn to keep himself from getting caught up in the visions, but once the story-arcs are in place, the show moves along nicely. If you're tired of the same old law shows, Eli Stone is a nice change of pace.

Eli Stone: The Complete First Season suddenly appears before you on DVD courtesy of ABC Studios (which is distributed by Disney). The four-disc set contains all 13 episodes from the show's first season. The shows are letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks very good here, as it's nicely sharp and clear, showing only modest grain in some landscape shots (and these could have been stock footage). There are no defects from the source material. The colors look very good, and the image is never overly dark or bright. Artifacting and video noise are practically non-existent. This transfer certainly rivals digital broadcast quality. The DVDs have a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, especially in the office scenes. The track really comes to life in Eli's vision, as we get some nice surround and subwoofer effects from attacking planes and dragons. Without these scenes, the track would be very status quo.

The Eli Stone: The Complete First Season DVD set has a few special features. Disc 3 offers an AUDIO COMMENTARY on the episode "I Want Your Sex" with Creators/Executive Producers Greg Berlanti & Marc Guggenheim, Executive Producer Chris Misiano, and actors Jonny Lee Miller, Natasha Henstridge, Victor Garber, Sam Jaeger, and writers Leila Gerstein and Wendy Mericle. The remainder of the extras are found on Dsic 4. We get an AUDIO COMMENTARY for the episode "Soul Free" with Creators/Executive Producers Greg Berlanti & Marc Guggenheim, actors Jonny Lee Miller, Natasha Henstridge, Matt Letscher, Sam Jaeger, Executive Producer/Director Chris Misiano, and writers Andrew Kreisberg and Courtney Kemp Agboh. Disc 4 contains an Extended Version of the Pilot Episode, which can be viewed with commentary by Creators/Executive Producers Greg Berlanti & Marc Guggenheim, actors Jonny Lee Miller, Natasha Henstridge, Sam Jaeger and Director Ken Olin. All of these commentaries are both highly informative and entertaining. The group gives us information about the making of the show, including the pace of making a series and their admiration for the show's elaborate sets. We also get discussions about the story and incidentals, such as Miller's work on his American Accent.

The DVD contains seven DELETED SCENES from various episodes. All of these are brief and they don't introduce any new storylines -- although some of them fill in some story gaps. "Turning a Prophet: The Creation of Eli Stone" (12 minutes) is a making of which focuses mainly on the Pilot. We hear comments from the creators about the formation of the show, and then the actors talk about their characters. (After watching the show, it's odd to hear Miller with his English accent.) "Acting on Faith: Eli & George Michael" (5 minutes) has comments from Michael and the cast, but we never learn why George Michael is featured on the show. "Creating Visions: The Effects of Eli Stone" (6 minutes) gives us plenty of examples of how green-screen effects are used to create Eli's visions. "Inside the Firm: The Natasha Henstridge Tour" (5 minutes) has the actress showing us around the law office set. Finally, we have a blooper reel entitled "Eli Oops!" (3 minutes).

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long