We’ve heard the lament before and no doubt, we’ll hear it again: It’s a shame that networks cancel original, creative, critically acclaimed shows while the seeming never-ending parade of trash reality TV continues to march on. Thing is, that’s not really the case with Eli Stone, an uneasy blend of comedy and drama that got canceled by ABC after a mere two seasons.
Let’s not pretend that this compares in any way to the cancellation of Pushing Daisies, an endlessly creative venture that got the same treatment from ABC. Eli Stone succeeds on the strength of its characters, but it's hardly groundbreaking or even that interesting — the lauded musical sequences are merely okay, and the bulk of the show in the second season is devoted to schmaltzy courtroom drama that’s the antithesis of originality.
I’ll admit, by the end of season two’s 13 episodes, I was hooked in a guilty pleasure sort of way, and there’s certainly worse TV that has gotten a pass and remains on-air, but Eli Stone’s early demise is hardly some irreparable tragedy.
As the season begins, Eli (Jonny Lee Miller) is struggling to get his law license restored. A brain aneurysm causes him to see visions (often show-stopping musical numbers, but clearly on a TV budget), and he believes God is sending him messages. Season two also sees his law firm splitting in two, with friends and colleagues choosing different sides.
Eli interprets his visions with the help of his acupuncturist (James Saito) — one of many kitschy elements that tend to be more annoying than endearing — and his younger brother, Nate (Matt Letscher), who’s familiar with the gift because their alcoholic father had the same one.
The concept behind Eli Stone isn’t a bad one, but the show leans a lot heavier on its courtroom aspects, usually with several cases being the driving plot points of the episode, and neglects the more fantastical elements of its premise. The more legal-focused it becomes, the more generic it is.
Fortunately, the show’s cast is winning, with solid supporting characters portrayed by Victor Garber, Natasha Henstridge, Loretta Devine, Sam Jaeger, and Julie Gonzalo, all as members of the original firm. Also, despite its cancellation, the show manages to pull off a rather decent conclusion, although I suspect fans would have wanted a lot more details.
Eli Stone probably deserved a better fate, but far more interesting and compelling shows have been canceled before their time. Ultimately, it’s not a huge loss.
The Complete Second and Final Season DVD set contains all 13 episodes on three discs. The only special feature worth anything is a fairly interesting featurette on one of the musical numbers from the show, showing the cast recording in the studio, rehearsing and performing the number. Also included is a pointless look at the cast’s morning routines, a short blooper reel, and three brief deleted scenes.