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TV Series Review

Prophets come pretty cheap these days. All it takes to be one is an inoperable brain aneurysm, cryptic hallucinations and counseling from a meditative Chinese acupuncturist. That "calling" befalls the reluctant hero of Eli Stone, a shifty young lawyer pestered by God to change his ways and defend the little guy, often against corporate bullies on retainer with his own cutthroat law firm.

One minute Eli (Jonny Lee Miller) is having boisterous sex with his fiancée (Natasha Henstridge), the next he's distracted by strange music and the sight of '80s pop star George Michael singing in the next room. Similar visions—from a barnstorming biplane to co-workers launching into musical production numbers—grab Eli's attention, only to leave him fumbling to explain eccentric behavior once he snaps out of his funk. Then it's off to defend a plaintiff done wrong by a shady conglomerate.

More Ally McBeal than Touched by an Angel, this often whimsical legal drama has two subtle problems in addition to occasional profanity, social drinking and frank sexual situations (including a lesbian kiss and a college kid about to lose his virginity in a casual hookup).

First, Eli Stone's one-size-fits-all spirituality lacks definition. After professing that he doesn't believe in God, Eli is told by his Asian sage, "Sure you do. You believe in right and wrong. You believe in justice and fairness. And you believe in love. All those things are God." They may be reflections of His character, but the biblical Almighty is no totem. He is more than a list of cherished virtues. Elsewhere, viewers are left to sort out insouciant mentions of Moses alongside references to the Hindu goddesses Kali and Saraswati.

The second concern is the show's squishy nobility. Some causes designed to gain our sympathy aren't as clear-cut as the selfless mom trying to protect other children from a chemical that left her son autistic. For example, illegal immigrants who take risks for a piece of the American dream get a wink and a nod. Writers vilify the military and excuse a family's fraudulent attempt to earn Mom a discharge from Iraq. Then there's the young woman distraught that she'll lose the baby being carried by her lesbian lover who, after a religious conversion, "is now a heterosexual Jesus freak." The series also takes cheap shots at President Bush and abets a questionable social agenda.

Postmodern sense of honor notwithstanding, we've seen some warm scenes between Eli and his brother (who is also his doctor), as well as poignant memories of his deceased dad revealed in Lost-style flashbacks. Also, an idealistic new attorney shadows Eli, serving as his conscience when he's tempted to revert to his sharking ways. But like other legal dramas, this one is defined by its caseload. And when a lawyer says, "I have learned more about lesbian love than I ever cared to know," that makes two of us.

Episodes Reviewed: Jan. 31, Feb. 7, 14, 21, 28, 2008

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Bob Smithouser

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