I watch a lot of mystery/thrillers on TV—24, The Closer, House, Monk, Burn Notice, The Mentalist, to name a few—because I enjoy trying to crack the case before the protagonists do. But even if I succeed, the fun is short-lived since on these types of shows, people are always getting murdered, blown up, cheated on, lied to, etc. After a while, I start feeling pretty cynical about the world and the bad things that happen in it.
That’s why I was pleasantly surprised over the summer to discover Eli Stone on DVD, a show that uplifted, inspired and—least expected of all—moved me. Jonny Lee Miller plays Stone, a shark of a lawyer until he gets a brain aneurysm that gives him visions of the future. At first disturbed and confused by them, Stone eventually embraces his visions, considers himself a kind of prophet and sets out to help people change the course of their lives, sometimes literally saving their lives in the process.
This premise has every chance of making the show one big hunk o’ stinky cheese but amazingly, it’s anything but. Did I mention Stone’s visions are usually set to George Michael songs, with Michael performing in person sometimes? And Stone’s spiritual advisor is a sarcastic, Asian acupuncturist who fakes a heavy accent for other customers but speaks perfect English with Stone and calls him “dude.” There is enough skepticism from other characters (almost all his colleagues) about Stone’s divinatory status to undercut any earnestness Stone might have once he accepts his calling.
But Stone isn’t a sappy guy. He still has some of his former killer-attorney instincts, he just now uses them for good. He struggles constantly to understand his metaphorical visions, which can happen at inopportune times and reveal truths others don’t want to hear.
I didn’t watch this show when it was on last year because I’m not that interested in watching things about faith. Everyone’s version of spirituality is different and I didn’t want to be spoon-fed someone else’s. But this show is fun, with characters bursting into exuberant musical numbers to convey hidden messages to Stone. I hate musicals so I have no idea why I find these interludes so entertaining. Perhaps it’s because they sometimes happen right in the middle of a somber event (a guy would dance beautifully before he drops dead), making me wonder if there isn’t some lightness to be found even in our darkest hours.
I also like how Stone strives to keep his faith and convince his peers he’s not crazy whenever he predicts the future. At times, he’s not certain of his sanity and yet he fights this uphill battle because he believes faith is necessary, that we’d all lead bleak lives if we always demand empirical evidence before believing in something. His arguments on this point have the potential to be schmaltzy yet they’re surprisingly moving. Sometimes his predictions are wrong and people resent him but he keeps trying to do the right thing. It’s this courage of his convictions in a cynical world that makes him more heroic to me than Jack Bauer any day.
So, pick up the first-season DVDs, binge-watch this weekend and you’ll be all caught up for the new episode next Tuesday, guest-starring Katie Holmes. I don’t like her much but this show has surprised me about so many things, I’ll probably love Mrs. Cruise by the time it’s over.