What the hell is it about ABC shows? On paper, or even by the pilot, I’m happy enough with them. They’re generally pretty clever, and always well-filmed. I liked “Knights of Prosperity” (liked it a lot more when it was called “Let’s Rob Mick Jagger”). “Dirty Sexy Money” was a clever nighttime soap version of “Arrested Development.” I even gave “The Nine” a chance, mostly because I wanted to see SOMETHING succeed in the post-“Lost” timeslot.
But when it comes to the shows themselves, I just can’t find it in me to care. They lack some essential element that would otherwise make them worth watching. So add to the list “Eli Stone,” which has “Don’t worry, it’ll be cancelled soon” written all over lead actor Johnny Lee Miller’s cleverly hidden receding hairline. Okay, yes, that was mean. I don’t care about the show enough to feel bad.
Miller stars as the eponymous title character, a slick, materialistic lawyer who, after being diagnosed with an inoperable brain aneurism, decides to Become A Better Man. At least, we’re told he was slick and materialistic, but from the get-go he seems like such a well-meaning doof that it’s hard to buy any of it.
That would be a show telling us, rather than showing us, about its premise. The show pushes this type of lazy writing to its limits. Other featured cliches include Sassy Black Assistant, Most Important Closing Argument of the Attorney’s Life, Misunderstood Father, AND Very Special Case of the week – in a stunningly exploitative move for a pilot, a kid with autism whose mom is suing a pharmaceutical company over additives in its vaccine. (ABC managed to cover its ass with a disclaimer…that ran at the end of the show. Good work, gang.)
And then there is The Whimsy. Oh GOD, The Whimsy. Which I am not against in theory. But in practice, everything here is just a bit too on-the-nose, from the visions of George Michael singing “Faith” to all Eli's other visions being childhood recollections that take on greater importance. The show wants balance quirkiness and realism, but doesn’t really bother thinking either through. After being diagnosed with an aneurism that, medically speaking, WILL cause delusions and hallucinations, Eli is then told by an acupuncturist that he may be some kind of prophet. Uhm…what?
If you have a medical diagnosis that would in fact cause crazy shit to appear before your eyes, then there is no otherworldly mystery. Your brain is just fucking with you. And if you believe some hippy-dippy acupuncturist who tells you you might be a prophet? That’s STILL YOUR BRAIN FUCKING WITH YOU.
I am not against The Whimsy in television. “Wonderfalls” sits on my DVD shelf as an all-time favorite, and “Pushing Daisies” managed to get through my defenses to become the only new show this year that I actively enjoyed. But in “Wonderfalls,” the brusqueness of the lead offset the cuteness of the talking animal dolls that told her what to do. In the other corner, “Pushing Daisies” commits completely to its strange designs in dialogue, costuming, set, and even dialogue.
“Eli Stone” wants to be cute and clever and magical, while also being down-to-earth and everyday. But all it succeeds in doing is making me want to punch Johnny Lee Miller in his receding hairline.
Sorry, that wasn’t necessary. It’s just REALLY distracting to me.