Let us cast the first ‘Stone’

Eli Stone (ABC, Thursdays, 10 pm)

Eli Stone’s a good lawyer and a good guy. He’s a winner, one of his massive firm’s rising stars, content to be handed high-profile cases and then win them — looking damn fly while doing so. Then, one day, Eli finds pop star George Michael in his apartment singing “Faith,” and things start to go downhill.

Turns out Eli has an inoperable brain tumor. Doctors think George Michael visions are a symptom. However, his acupuncturist Dr. Chen (James Saito), who pretends to have a thick, vaguely Asiatic accent to get more money from whiteys, believes Stone gets visions because he’s a prophet. Given the fairly conclusive CT scans on the one hand and the visions’ ability to lead Eli to pro-bono casework on the other, both diagnoses carry weight.

The structure of each episode thus far is for Stone to begin by expressing surprise or exasperation at a vision, then trying to ignore its command for charity and altruism, only to eventually take a loser case and make it a winner.

For a show so tied to the possibility of a demonstrative God, Eli Stone has curiously little magic. Rather than being imbued with the stuff — pulsing with it — the way Angels in America was and Pushing Daisies often is, Eli Stone’s supernaturalism feels tacked on, or, like the bi-plane that chased him around downtown San Francisco in week two, rendered in. That’s symbolic of its creators’ dancing around the central theme: Eli Stone is a show about faith that doesn’t want to tackle any of faith’s issues.

Dude has a tumor, for God’s sake, and it’s making him see visions. Maybe he’s a prophet; maybe he’s a man condemned to death by dumb, fickle nature. Maybe he’s both. The show’s premise speaks to the fundamental crux in faith: the not knowing. In these times fraught with religiosity and terror, there’s an opportunity here to explore the nature of man’s relationship to God, or the lack of a god — but certainly the desire in much of humanity to follow God’s will. What, though, if God’s just a brain tumor? Does that make the experience any less powerful? Less real? Eli Stone doesn’t offer any such insights, at least not yet.

Cute and simple is clearly in this year as fluff and kitsch continue their improbable partnership in mainstream media, but damn, I want just one show to actually explore the implications of its existence. Can I get an amen? •

See also

The Oscars Yeah, it’ll be the same old Oscar ceremony, made considerably worse by the inclusion of McDreamy and Miley Cyrus as presenters, but at least the strike’s over. And at least it ain’t the Grammys. (ABC, Sunday, 7 pm)

Flavor of Love 3 I’ll only say this once, so listen good: Flava is back and I refuse to watch it. I can’t take getting sucked into another season. (VH-1, Mondays, 9 pm)

Jericho The barely-renewed post-apocalypse-in-the-heartland drama deserves to be on TV more than CSI: Miami does. It won’t be, though, unless you watch it. (CBS, Saturdays, 8 pm)

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