Empty10-11 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31
Considering the number of hallucinations Eli Stone has, maybe they should have added a "d" to his last name. But no, Stone, a high-powered San Francisco lawyer, owes his unique visions and music to a freaky brain aneurysm which, of course, is inoperable.
With "Eli Stone," Greg Berlanti's Midas touch -- he already has two other shows on ABC, "Brothers & Sisters" and "Dirty Sexy Money" -- is very much in evidence. His new series is more quietly manipulative and less dramatically satisfying than the others, and yet Berlanti and co-writer Marc Guggenheim have no trouble creating enough moments to propel the series straight to viewers' hearts.
"Eli Stone" nibbles at the corners of other series, including "Ghost Whisperer," with its prophetic visions, and "Saving Grace," with its vague spirituality that will, in time, guide Stone from his unacceptable atheism to a more conventional belief in a divine spirit. There's also a weekly music and dance number but, unlike "Viva Laughlin" and "Cop Rock," it clearly is a fantasy.
Also, as long as we're making TV comparisons, let's throw in "Highway to Heaven," not so much for Stone's ability to find solutions to serious problems but for the Michael Landon vibe that provides almost instant assurance that everything will be fine in the end.
The premise in the pilot introduces Stone, played by amiable Jonny Lee Miller, as a lion in the legal arena but a kitty cat in his personal life. Even so, he's engaged to fetching Taylor Wethersby (Natasha Henstridge), a fellow lawyer in the firm and the daughter of the senior partner, artfully played by Victor Garber.
His delusions begin with the sound of organ music, then later, a rendition of "Faith" by George Michael in a guest role. Shortly thereafter, Stone is visited in real life by a single mother who claims that a preservative in her son's vaccine made him autistic. She wants Stone to sue the pharmaceutical company, which happens to be a client of the firm.
The story is based on actual claims by parents that a vaccine preservative, thimerosal, caused autism in their kids. But study after study, including one released this month by the California Department of Public Health, has found no link whatsoever.
Aside from distorting these facts, "Stone" could be a menace to public health if nervous parents buy into the show's specious arguments.
In another episode, choir music and a menacing biplane foretell the plight of an immigrant couple, farm workers conned into believing they became U.S. citizens. Whose side is Stone on? Let's just say the Minutemen won't be throwing a watch party.
There's a strong supporting cast, including Loretta Devine as Stone's no-nonsense secretary, but the big attraction is Miller's Stone and his transformation from heartless corporate lawyer to protector of the little guy. It will follow "Lost," a pairing that likely owes more to the writers strike's impact on scripted shows than the prospect of audience flow.
Berlanti Television in association with ABC Studios
Executive producers: Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Ken Olin
Co-executive producer: Andrew A. Ackerman
Co-producers: Michael Cedar, Melissa Berman, Jennifer Lence
Director: Ken Olin
Teleplay: Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim
Director of photography: Michael Monvillain
Production designer: Aaron Osborne
Editor: Kristin Windell
Music: Blake Neely
Set designer: Jennifer Gentile
Casting: Robert J. Ulrich, Eric Dawson, Carol Kritzer, Liz Dean
Eli Stone: Jonny Lee Miller
Jordan Wethersby: Victor Garber
Taylor Wethersby: Natasha Henstridge
Patti: Loretta Devine
Matt Dowd: Sam Jaeger
Dr. Chen: James Saito
Nathan Stone: Matt Letsher
Maggie: Julie Gonzalo
Beth Keller: Laura Benanti
Mr. Stone: Tom Cavanaugh