While not a huge hit in its first season, Eli Stone managed to wrap in many viewers with its quirky style and before long it had a regular row of fans cheering for it to come back for a second season. With a heavy influence of George Michael and a surprising amount of emotion and faith packed in for good measure, Eli Stone proved with its first season, comprised of thirteen episodes, that it had what it takes for a new show to survive the strenuous world of first season premieres. With a second season well into production, Eli Stone promises to return stronger than ever later this fall, complete with its highly entertaining cast.
When Eli Stone (Jonny Lee Miller) begins to have vivid hallucinations that include George Michael singing in his living room, Eli rushes to the doctor to see what’s wrong. After running a full scan, it’s revealed that Eli is suffering from a potentially fatal brain aneurysm. While there’s a scientific explanation for the hallucinations, Eli slowly learns that there may be more to these visions and that something greater may be at work. Despite his life going the way he envisioned it prior to the discovery of the aneurysm, Eli finds himself dealing with new questions from his past and wondering just how significant the things he’s seeing, and remembering from his childhood, really are.
Although I should know better by now, I’m heavily influenced by trailer and promotional spots for television shows and movies. When I saw the commercials for Eli Stone while watching Lost, I wasn’t interested in the show at all. I’d given up on ABC as a network long ago (aside from Lost…which nearly lost me during its second season) and had no desire (or time) to get into another show. When the DVD release was announced, I opted to give it a chance, not because I’d heard good things about it (I actually hadn’t heard anything of any significance about it), but because I simply wanted to see what the show had to offer. I’m happy to say that not only did the show have me wrapped in from the pilot, I ended up spending the entire day with it.
I’ve watched seasons of shows in one day before, but Eli Stone went a bit different. Rather than doing other things while watching the show, I actually stepped away from the computer and just plunked in front of the TV for a solid nine hours and breezed through the entire season. There were breaks, sure, but I’ve never done that with a show before and I was quite surprised by how easy it was to just keep watching the series. It’s not that the storyline ever ended on a cliffhanger or kept you wanting more, it was just such an incredibly entertaining and…well, happy show to watch. It had enough drama in it to keep you emotionally invested, but the characters were all so well done and crafted that each episode just flew by.
I really loved the way Eli’s character was played throughout the season, with an attitude about not caring for the underdog and only going for the big cases from focuses on pro-bono work. Not only that but the relationship he had with his fiancée, Taylor Wethersby (Natasha Henstridge), which I had assumed would just turn into something where they’d eventually get back together, actually dissolved into a kind of friendship between the two, which was quite interesting. It wasn’t the route I expected the show to take, so seeing it go that way was really quite refreshing. Of course things got a bit cloudy with that flash forward and what happens between Eli and another office member, Maggie (Julie Gonzalo), but that’s for another time (and another season).
In ways you could classify Eli Stone as a primetime soap opera, but there’s so much more that makes up the show than who’s interested in whom around the office. Quite honestly I was more surprised by the faith element of the series and how much of an impact religion had on the show. While there’s no specific religion named (or maybe there was…I was kind of bleary eyed at the end of those nine hours), there’s definitely an undercurrent of “something greater at work” throughout the series. It never got overly preachy in any way and kept it in simple terms when it talked about a greater plan for things, so while the show definitely had its fair share of God talk, it’s really just more about having faith than anything. After watching so many action packed spy shows and others filled with drama, it was almost relaxing to have such a calming show be worked into my viewing schedule.
The entire season was a joy to watch, although the final episode of the season was quite confusion and convoluted to watch. It wasn’t until the episode was over half over did I fully realize what was going on, although, again…nine hours straight in front of a TV might have had something to do with it as well. Still, the back and forth nature of the final episode just came as more unexpected than anything, as the series had never done that before. There was one other element that I found rather strange—the random relationship between Eli’s secretary, Patti (Loretta Devine) and one of the upper level partners of the law firm. They randomly had a scene together and then we never heard from them again. It was as if someone had just shoehorned this bit in, as there was no inclination that there was anything going on between them and it was, in fact, only the second time they’d even been seen together in the series (and the first time was earlier in that same episode).
Occasional quirks aside, the series overall was just a real treat to watch. It will definitely give you a case of the warm fuzzies, although if you’re like me you might be waiting for an aneurysm of your own while watching it. With so much talk of it in the show, it made me feel like my head was a ticking time bomb. But, hey, other than that, it was a great first season and I’ll definitely be tuning in for the second. I just hope that if George Michael shows up again in the series (as he did frequently this first season), he does something about his eye brows because those things are freaking scary looking. Recommended.
Disney follows suit with other studios compressing their season sets down to single disc width amaray cases, although their method is a bit different. While other studios have started using the Viva multi-tray system, Disney’s using the Scanavo system (who also does the Steelbooks). It’s a bit less neat as there’s no place to hold the inserts that the DVD comes with, but it gets the job done in similar fashion. Details on what’s on each disc is included on the flipside of the casing insert, which is the same art used on the embossed slipcase. For some reason there is an insert for the Blu-ray format, despite this series not even being offered on that format, but whatever. There’s also a coupon for $10 off if you buy this set with Desperate Housewives’s latest season. Menu’s for the set is a replica of Matt Dowd’s office…though I’m not sure why they chose a secondary character’s office to use for the menu system, but no big deal.
Included here is a very solid 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that has nice clarity throughout. There’s plenty of facial detail to pick up off of the image and even the sometimes kooky looking CGI doesn’t look too bad here. Definitely a solid video transfer that’s backed up by a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround mix that really makes use of the full surround setup; there is a wealth of audio being tossed into the rear channels, such as office noises, but it really kicks in during the shows musical numbers. The show certainly looks and sounds great, and the vibrant colors of the office environment and Eli’s visions certainly look great on the format. I imagine it looks even better in HD, but I guess Disney doesn’t want to invest the money to put this series on that format quite yet.
Extras start on the third disc of the set, where we get our first of two commentaries. “I Want Your Sex” comes complete with commentary by 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. It’s a packed house and it certainly makes for a lively commentary, although due to the numbers we don’t always get to hear from everyone in equal fashion. Disc 4’s “Soul Free” with creators/executive producers Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, And Actors Jonny Lee Miller, Natasha Henstridge, Matt Letscher, Sam Jaeger, Executive Producer Chris Misiano and Writers Andrew Kreisberg and Courtney Kemp Agboh is similarly packed, although a few new faces keep it from sounding too similar to the last track.
Also included on the fourth disc is the extended pilot (46:01), which doesn’t have all that much longer of a runtime than the actual pilot on the first disc (43:07). You don’t get quite a whole lot here, with just a few new shots and pieces between characters tossed in. It’s best viewed with commentary by Creators/Executive Producers Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim And Actors Jonny Lee Miller, Natasha Henstridge, Sam Jaeger and Director Ken Olin, as you really don’t gain too much by watching this extended version if you’ve already seen the original cut.
Moving onto the rest of the fourth discs content we have seven deleted scenes, about ten minutes total, and a series of featurettes. “Turning a Prophet: The Creation of Eli Stone” (12:14, 480i anamorphic) talks about how the series came to be and “Acting on Faith: Eli and George Michael” (4:34, 480i anamorphic) discusses the inclusion of George Michael into the series. “Creating Visions: The Effects of Eli Stone” (5:36, 480i anamorphic) quickly runs through the special effects for the series and “Inside the Firm: The Natasha Henstridge Tour” (4:59, 480i anamorphic) is a short tour of the sets used in the series, which look oddly reminiscent of the set for Angel’s final season. I guess there’s only so many ways you can make a law firm look different. Finally we have “Eli Oops!” (3:29, 480i anamorphic), our short blooper reel for the series which has a surprising number of deleted expletives intertwined throughout it.
While the extras have a decent run time, they’re all victim to waaay too much series footage being spliced in with it. At times the footage doesn’t have any relevance whatsoever, which is especially noticeable during the “Inside the Firm” piece. What new content we do get is nice to watch, but there isn’t nearly as much there as you’d expect based on the run times.
Still, the series is worth checking out and the extras, however filled with footage from the show you just watched they are, are still interesting enough to give a once over. The commentaries are the best extras on the set and while I wish there were more, the fact they were able to fill it up with so much cast and crew talent is admirable enough for a first season effort. Here’s hoping the next season set (and season itself) is even better than the first. Recommended.
Eli Stone – The Complete First Season is now available on DVD.