Idol Chatter

elistone.jpgIn 2001’s “Joan of Arcadia” God appeared to a small-town teen disguised as a cute boy, a cafeteria lady and other random citizens. In “Saving Grace,” a beer-sipping angel with a Nashville twang pops in on an Oklahoma City detective. In “Eli Stone,” the new dramedythat debuts Friday night on ABC, the messenger of the divine is George Michael. It’s him, by George, standing on a coffee table, bleached by heavenly white light, crooning his tune “Faith” to nudge the hotshot corporate lawyer of the title into helping a poor autistic kid sue a drug company. The appearance of the slightly grizzled singer is funny in a postmodern, post-TV generation sort of way, and that pretty much describes this latest attempt to give God his own TV series.

On one level, “Eli Stone” operates as a legal drama, with inspiring summations and surprise witnesses, but the title character, played by Jonny Lee Miller, has a problem: he’s having visions. Whether you believe that his neurologist brother that his underlying problem is a medical condition or a tap from the divine, as Eli’s acupuncturist tells him, the visions subside only when he takes on do-gooder cases. This scenario is a provocative answer to those who demand that God be a kink in our biology or a supernatural reality. Eli’s visions, it seems, are both.
The George Michael scene, however, spells trouble. If you’re a religion-and-culture geek, you know that, try as you might to use it as a data point, the tune resists religious interpretations. (“I guess it would be nice/If I could touch your body” is not a reference to St. Thomas encountering the risen Christ.) The fact that “Eli Stone” plants it as the fulcrum of its premiere show indicates a lazy blurring that pervades the show’s theological and social points. While we’re supposed to understand that Eli is being called as a prophet, he’s really only following his conscience.
And while Eli scores a big win for the autistic kid against the pharmaceutical company who made a bad vaccine, the jury is still out, so to speak, on what causes autism, and real-life pediatricians are protesting that the show may cause parents to avoid needed vaccinations.

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