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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.
And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
ELI STONE (ABC)
(TBA at midseason)
The network's description: "Many lawyers consider themselves prophets, but Eli Stone may be the real deal. Eli has built a successful career at a top law firm in San Francisco representing only the biggest and richest corporations that make a habit of screwing over the little guy. But after experiencing a series of odd hallucinations, Eli seeks to find a deeper meaning to life while trying not to lose his job and destroy his relationship with the bosses' daughter. When Eli discovers an aneurysm in his brain, he wonders if his condition is truly medical or if perhaps he now has a higher calling."
What did they leave out: Keep an eye out for lots of great cameos - from "Ed's" Tom Cavanagh as Eli's late father; to "Everwood's" Tom Amandes as one of the members of Eli's firm; to Joanna Gleason as Eli's mom; to Barbara Niven as the wife of Victor Garber's character.
The plot in a nutshell: Eli Stone (Jonny Lee Miller), up until this moment, was "that guy." He's that guy with the great job (high-powered lawyer for one of San Francisco's biggest firms), that guy with the great car and that guy with the hot fiance (Natasha Henstridge). In terms of his faith, he prayed not to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit but to the holy trinity of Armani, Accessories and Ambition. But then, as he explains in the opening narration - he "heard the music." Said event - a few bars of organ music - first comes while being briefed by his assistant Patti (a never better Loretta Devine), then again during the deposition for his firm's latest high profile case and once more when making love to his fiance. He eventually realizes where it's from - the opening bars of George Michael's "Faith" - just as Michael himself appears singing that very tune. Thinking he's gone crazy, Eli goes to see his doctor brother Nathan (Matt Letscher) who confirms that he has conjoined cranial butts or as it's more commonly known "double butthead syndrome." His amusing diagnosis aside, Eli still keeps on hearing the music - especially when dealing with Beth (Laura Berlanti), a single mom who's suing Eli's client over a preservative in their flu vaccine that she claims gave her son autism, a case which all parties agree is impossible to prove. Not sure what to do, Patti sends him to her acupuncturist Dr. Chen (an awesome James Saito), who in turn causes him to remember his connection to Beth - she was the girl who deflowered him 16 years ago... while "Faith" was playing in the background. But the connections (or coincidences) don't stop there - after going to visit Beth, her barely communicative son manages to spell out "George Michael" with his building blocks. Convinced he's somehow supposed to help her, Eli agrees to represent her against his own firm, a fact his boss (Victor Garber) - who we learn is Taylor's (Henstridge) father - begrudgingly agrees to since it's a loser case and the firm will get free publicity out of it. But Eli's journey doesn't end there - he also begins hallucinating a trolley car bell, which subsequently conjures up memories of his late drunk father (a pitch perfect Tom Cavanagh). It's enough to send the on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown Eli back to Nathan, who after running some more tests confirms some heartbreaking news - Eli actually has an inoperable brain aneurysm that's theoretically responsible for his visions, one that he could have inherited from his father (which also might explain their dad's alcoholism). Dr. Chen, amusingly revealed to actually be nothing like his Asian stereotype, however believes it's something else - he thinks Eli might be a prophet, sent here to show us the way. It would be cruel to spoil any more, but suffice it to say it involves a trip to the snow covered mountains of India, a coffee can filled with his dad's ashes, more touching connections and Eli being given a new purpose in life.
What works: A charming, genuinely funny and - dare I say - touching love letter to rediscovering lost idealism, "Eli" just might be my favorite newcomer this season. Far from the "Ally McBeal" rip-off it will undoubtedly be painted as, inside "Eli" - much like "Pushing Daisies" - beats a heart filled with an unabashed zest for life's possibilities, albeit with a more grounded, less whimsical tone. It's also very much about forgiving family sins, as just like the mountain guide in the pilot's closing moments, you'll want to call your dad after watching. Leading the charge then is the always charming Jonny Lee Miller, who spearheads an extremely likeable cast - from the previously mentioned Loretta Devine and James Saito to Sam Jaeger as Eli's unapologetic rival at the firm. They, along with Ken Olin's direction and Greg Berlanti & Marc Guggenheim's script, help create a world where being idealistic in a cynical world is a beautiful thing, a fact that's perfectly embodied in a scene in which Dr. Chen explains to Eli that whether he realizes it or not - he believes in God. Any show that can do that - and have the lead character routinely pratfall - is worth seeking out.
What doesn't: No complaints here.
The bottom line: It might be a while before this one airs, but hopefully you'll discover it once it does.