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Eli Stone on DVD: Season 1 Season 2

"Eli Stone" The Complete Second Season DVD Review

Buy Eli Stone: The Complete Second Season (Final Season) on DVD from Amazon.com Eli Stone: Season Two (2008-09)
Show & DVD Details

Creators: Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim / Repeat Writers: Leila Gerstein, Andrew Kreisberg, Alex Taub, Brett Mahoney, Steve Lichtman, Marc Guggenheim, Dahvi Waller, Wendy Mericle / Repeat Directors: David Petrarca, Perry Lang, Vincent Misiano

Starring Cast: Jonny Lee Miller (Eli Stone), Natasha Henstridge (Taylor Wethersby), Loretta Devine (Patti Dellacroix), Matt Letscher (Dr. Nathan Stone), Sam Jaeger (Matt Dowd), James Saito (Dr. Frank Chen), Julie Gonzalo (Maggie Dekker), Jason George (Keith Bennett), Victor Garber (Jordan Wethersby)

Recurring Characters: Taraji P. Henson (Angela Scott), Kerr Smith (Paul Rollins), Tom Amandes (Martin Posner), Tom Cavanagh (Jeremy Stone), Laura Benanti (Beth Keller), Debrah Farentino (Ellen Wethersby), Steven Culp (Jim Cooper), Bridget Moynahan (Ashley Cardiff), Katey Sagal (Marci Klein), Marshall Allman (J.J. Cooper), Melinda Clarke (Dr. Lee), Suzie Plakson (Jesse Bates), Jodi Long (Judge Marcia Phelps), Deirdre Lovejoy (A.D.A. Samantha Jarrells), Lyn Alicia Henderson (Dr. Betty Lenz), Bruce French (Terrence Snyder), Todd Grinnell (Anthony Gibbons), Gina Torres (Attorney Miller)

Notable Guest Stars: Sigourney Weaver (Therapist), Katie Holmes (Grace Fuller), Ken Howard (Thomas Hayes), Roxanne Hart (Emily Hayes), Parisa Fakhri (Sana Kahn), Rachelle Lefevre (Candace Bonneville), Tonye Patano (Judge Flora Simms), Seal (Himself), Danielle Panabaker (Genny Clarke), Dallas Malloy (Revered Michael Stills), Stephanie Niznik (Delia Slater), Michaela Watkins (Judge Leigh Rappaport), Tom McGowan (Donnie Griffiths), Jamey Sheridan (Sam Russell), James Morrison (Dan Buckley), Daniel Benzali (Judge Emmet Bortz), Kurt Fuller (Doug Stemple), Jaime Murray (Diane Rundlet), Alanna Ubach (Cathy Bonilla), Missy Yager (Vivian Carlisle), Gregory Smith (Todd Riley)

Running Time: 556 Minutes (13 episodes) / Rating: TV-PG
1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French; Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
DVD Release Date: August 18, 2009
Season 2 Airdates: October 14, 2008 - July 11, 2008
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s); Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Clear Keepcase with Cardboard Slipcover

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From one season of working with Greg Berlanti on "Brothers & Sisters", ABC must have decided it really liked the way he thought. The following fall, the network picked up two additional hour-long dramas from Berlanti's production company: "Dirty Sexy Money" debuted in September, while "Eli Stone" came midseason. By the 2008 November sweeps, though, it looked like ABC reconsidered the TV veteran's appeal; both "Dirty" and "Eli" were effectively cancelled.
The shows' completed episodes ran through the end of the year, the final ones were shelved and ultimately dumped this past summer.

That's nothing extraordinary for the medium; most series can only dream of having two dozen episodes aired by a major network. And although Berlanti suddenly found himself juggling fewer active productions for the small screen, he's far from idle. "Brothers & Sisters" returns for a fourth season in three weeks and Hollywood has come calling as well. He's writing and producing The Green Lantern, a Warner/DC Comics superhero flick starring Ryan Reynolds that's scheduled for summer 2011 release. He's also directing two other Warner films, including the Katherine Heigl romance Life as We Know It.

ABC isn't the worse either, since both axed shows had experienced audience drop-off and neither earned anywhere near as many viewers as its competition on CBS and NBC. Disappointed fans wanting closure still got that and without even having to pay for it. And recently, Disney gave them the chance to own the season in the unparalleled presentation afforded by DVD.

Aneurysmatic attorney Eli Stone (Jonny Lee Miller) suspects the box of files on fire before him is merely one of his hallucinations. But, just to be safe, he reaches for the nearest fire extinguisher. Eli looks into a mirror to see his late father (Tom "NBC's Ed" Cavanagh) in a fantasy flashback.

In reviewing its first season last September, I found "Eli Stone" to be a pretty enjoyable program. Returning to the series one year later, I am pleased to report that its sophomore season is as enjoyable (even a little more), and it is considerably better than the last ABC-produced legal drama I sped through (TNT's "Raising the Bar").

Eli Stone (Jonny Lee Miller) is a San Francisco lawyer who last season was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm responsible for sensory hallucinations. Such visions included appearances by pop singer George Michael and colleagues spontaneously bursting into song and dance numbers. In more serious episodes, they also foreshadowed disaster and directed him to those in need of help. Developing a conscience rendered Eli something of a modern-day prophet, but it also jeopardized his previously high standing at business-minded firm Wethersby, Posner & Klein.

Season One ended with Eli having the surgery to remove his aneurysm. Of course, without an aneurysm, there is no show, at least not a show marked by flashy, fun fantasy sequences. Although Season 2 briefly plays with Eli's powers being passed off to his brother, by the end of the premiere, Eli has negotiated to get them back, restoring the series' original design and the protagonist's life-threatening condition.

Matt Dowd (Sam Jaeger) and Taylor (Natasha Henstridge) grow more serious in their relationship with news of a pregnancy. Patti Dellacroix (Loretta Devine) wields a butter knife, her weapon of choice with which to threaten one of the firm's lawyers.

Eli is clearly the star, remaining focal most of the time as the title would suggests, but like most of today's hour-long programs, this one still qualifies as an ensemble. Wisely, the core cast's supporting characters step in and out of the spotlight, never guaranteed to appear in every episode. It's a more appealing design than the conceivable opposite, in which they'd be squeezed in with unsatisfactory, overcomplicating "B" material.

We still get plenty of opportunities to know the people in idealist Eli's life. At work, there is his father figure and boss, Jordan Wethersby (Victor Garber), a serious but sympathetic man. His daughter Taylor (Natasha Henstridge) is completely over last season's cancelled engagement to Eli and now taking her new beau, the generally shrewd Matt Dowd (Sam Jaeger), more seriously.
Other qualified lawyers include Keith Bennett (Jason George), a principled former public defender, and Maggie Dekker (Julie Gonzalo), an optimistic environmentalist with lingering affections for Eli despite an engagement to another man. And we can't forget faithful secretary Patti (Loretta Devine), who helps research the elements of Eli's hallucinations when not supplying her signature sass.

Outside of the office, Eli appreciations the friendship and wisdom of his guru Frank Chen (James Saito), an all-knowing Chinese acupuncturist who turns off the magical Asian front he puts on for other customers. Another person in whom Eli can confide is his older brother Nathan (Matt Letscher), a doctor whose difficulties often arise from Eli's gift.

There is a welcome depth to these characters. The show admirably deals with them in an intelligent, long-term fashion, never serving up a quick personality change or uncharacteristic maneuver to deliver immediate drama or a drawn-out twist.

Frank Chen (James Saito) checks in with Eli after performing potent acupuncture technique The Dark Truth. Nathan Stone (Matt Letscher) shares the frame with the foresightful notebook of his father, presently being browsed by Eli.

One potential turn-off for viewers is that "Eli" is not light on dramatic devices. The guiding vision design largely avoids the formulaic feel it developed in Season 1. But you can accept that hook and still have reservations about the pair of deus ex machina Season 2 employs. One is the soothsaying notebook of Eli and Nathan's similarly-afflicted, now-deceased father. The other is the supernatural acupuncture technique called "The Dark Truth", which supplies Eli with visions of the future but comes with health risks.

The show can on occasion be quite ridiculous, but at least it acknowledges it. It also tempers its fancies with realistic legal stories. Served up one case per episode, the legal proceedings are not overplayed. While we rarely see mundane details of these professionals' lives, we delve more into character drama than authentic attorney strategies. Although the subject matter calls attention to contemporary social issues, it now does so in a refreshingly even-handed, non-persuasive fashion. Oh, you can still spot the standard liberal leanings and recognize how they almost always align with where our sympathies should lie. But for dealing with big topics like the war, homeland security, immigration, substance addiction, transgenderism, and religion, the show's newfound restraint in politicizing is greatly appreciated.

Season 2 explores plenty of interesting storytelling territory outside the courtroom. Most notably, a near-death experience helps Jordan develop a newfound conscience like Eli's. The veteran attorney's epiphany leads him to see paid pro bono and social causes as the firm's new callings. The philosophy splits his namesake firm in two, with his other partners (recurring Tom Amandes, Katey Sagal) dissenting and setting up rival shop in an impossibly fast and furious manner. There is a pregnancy, a divorce, and a revelation that casts new light on the Stones' father (sparingly played in flashbacks by Tom Cavanagh of NBC's "Ed" renown). And single Eli has no fewer than four romantic interests.

The Kline (Katey Sagal) and Posner (Tom Amandes) of Wethersby, Posner & Kline go their own way in Season 2. Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson features prominently in three episodes as Angela Scott, a medical student needing legal assistance.

The regular cast of "Eli Stone" deserves ample praise. Each actor manages to make his or her character a living being, not merely someone spouting out snappy dialogue and standing as foil. The performers enable the show to incorporate California's diverse ethnic makeup in a natural, believable way, although one could point out that Hispanics seem underrepresented. But if you're expecting programming to accurately reflect population demographics, you haven't quite grasped the concept of primetime TV. Led by Miller, an Englishman who pulls off an unwavering American accent, the fine acting helps the show maintain a grip on our attentions throughout.

For a while, it seems like the show dials down some of the imagination in its fantasy/vision scenes, although it ends up with a lot comparable to Season 1's. Less in dispute is that the show downplays the life-threatening aspect of Eli's condition and also any serious questioning of his sanity. Those are two wise decisions, for they ensure the show isn't prone to repeating itself in what amounted to too short a run.

One department in which Season 2 clearly outranks Season 1 is in guest star fame. Sigourney Weaver and Katie Holmes take a sizable presence in the first two episodes, respectively. Other recognizable one-time guests include Seal (playing himself), Friday the 13th's Danielle Panabaker (channeling Ellen Page as an independent physicist), and Twilight's Rachel Lefevre. Staying on for longer stints: My Bloody Valentine's Kerr Smith, famous NFL quarterback baby mama Bridget Moynahan as a silly heiress, and, most effectively, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson as a med student with a suspected drug problem.

"Eli Stone" recently made its final splash in a 3-disc set that ABC and Disney label both Final Season and The Complete Second Season. Episode synopses appear below.

Sigourney Weaver gets the guest star ball rolling by playing a therapist (or is she God?) in the Season 2 premiere "The Path." In Eli's prescient vision, Grace (Katie Holmes) is a confident jazz club showgirl. In real life, she is just a clumsy social worker. Jordan (Victor Garber) takes the witness stand as his former partners put his sanity on trial.

Disc 1

1. The Path (39:57) (Originally aired October 14, 2008)
Nate has a vision of a crane crashing into a bank, prompting Eli to take to court to argue how best to save an apparently trapped Jordan. Eli's clean bill of health isn't what it seems.

2. Grace (43:01) (Originally aired October 21, 2008)
Eli meets Grace (Katie Holmes), a woman from his jazzy vision, at a baseball game. He also represents a father (Ken Howard) certain his late son wouldn't have wanted a military funeral.

3. Unwritten (43:02) (Originally aired October 28, 2008)
Taylor represents her father as his partners pursue a breach of contract suit questioning his post-traumatic sanity. On behalf of a sick girl, Eli files a suit against lead paint companies.

4. Should I Stay or Should I Go? (42:55) (Originally aired November 11, 2008)
Posner (Tom Amandes) courts Jordan's employees, including Maggie and Dowd. Eli and Dowd defend a Pakistani woman threatened with deportation (and death?) by homeland security.

The relationship of wealthy philanthropist Jim Cooper (Steven Culp) and his son features in back-to-back episodes, culminating with this tense witness stand interrogation. Honest to blog, Danielle Panabaker was directed to model her "Owner of a Lonely Heart" college dropout Genny Clarke after Ellen Page's Juno. Beth (Laura Benanti) moves slowly toward the foreseen cold feet that threaten her elopement with Nate.

Disc 2

5. The Humanitarian (43:02) (Originally aired November 18, 2008)
Eli has visions of fire while trying to woo an influential client (Steven Culp) wanting medical marijuana for his MS-stricken teenaged son. Keith defends and dates Patti's daughter (Taraji P. Henson).

6. Happy Birthday Nate (43:03) (Originally aired December 2, 2008)
Picking things up from last episode, Eli represents J.J. (Marshall Allman)
in an effort to emancipate from his rich, powerful father, against Dowd and Maggie. Eli sees himself as his father ("Ed" star Tom Cavanagh) in flashbacks.

7. Help! (43:02) (Originally aired December 9, 2008)
Eli and Keith defend Angela against drug charges. Dowd gets a favor from a rich heiress client (Seal tickets) to help him tell Taylor how he feels about her.

8. Owner of a Lonely Heart (43:04) (Originally aired December 16, 2008)
Revealing his gift stalls Eli's relationship with Ashley (Bridget Moynahan). A vision of a future Nobel Prize winner leads Eli to represent a Juno-esque college dropout (Danielle Panabaker) suspected of bomb-making. Taylor learns something while representing her father in his divorce.

9. Two Ministers (43:02) (Originally aired December 30, 2008)
Keith represents his pastor (Dallas Malloy), who claims s/he's been fired because of a sex change operation. Eli tries to prevent Nate's Las Vegas wedding from being called off as visions show. Taylor and Dowd learn their baby may have a handicap.

Four colleagues turned frienemies working together again makes for one interesting trip to "Sonoma." Taylor, Jordan, and Eli await a jury verdict that could potentially close the firm in "Mortal Combat." A woman in a white dress (Jaime Murray) standing in a field amidst plane wreckage is all Eli has to go on in deciphering his final cautionary vision.

Disc 3

10. Sonoma (43:02) (Originally aired June 20, 2009)
Eli, Taylor, Dowd, and Maggie travel together to Sonoma, where they join forces to help a TV producer (Suzie Plakson) mixed up in a Nazi art theft case. Jordan asks Patti to be his date to a social function. Dr. Chen reveals a secret.

11. Mortal Combat (43:03) (Originally aired June 27, 2009)
Things get ugly between the attorneys of Wethersby, Stone & Associates
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and those of Posner Klein, as former colleagues take opposite sides in the case of a TV newsman's (James Morrison) severance package. Adding weight to the trial, the Wethersby firm's future may just depend on the verdict.

12. Tailspin (43:03) (Originally aired July 4, 2009)
Jordan and Eli pursue a class action lawsuit against a CEO (Michael Reilly Burke) whose $43 million golden parachute cost them their jobs. Eli needs several visions of a mid-'90s flight to understand its meaning.

13. Flight Path (43:04) (Originally aired July 11, 2009)
Eli scrambles to decipher the plane crash visions show him and deter any potential co-worker that might soon fly. Also, he helps an atheist (Jaime Murray) secure the heart transplant that a Christian family wishes to renege on. It may not be the big production that a longer-running series would enjoy, but there is a suitable air of finality detected here.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Like most modern television dramas, "Eli Stone" is given a 1.78:1 widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation once reserved for cinematic fare. It looks terrific, with its commendable production values easy to admire here. The soundtrack is fairly simple, but the series' music (most of it, original Blake Neely score) comes across clearly and nicely.

Sam Jaeger, Jason George, Tom Amandes, Julie Gonzalo, and Natasha Henstridge record their vocals for the season-opening "Dancing in the Street" musical number. With green curlers in her hair, Julie Gonzalo takes us around the production of "Eli Stone" in "Good Morning Eli with Sam & Julie."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

All of the set's bonus features turn up on Disc 3.

"Dancin' in the Streets with the cast of 'Eli Stone'" (11:38) documents the making of the season's first big musical number (one of the show's biggest). It shows us the band recording the song ("Dancing in the Street"), the cast recording their vocals, and the choreographing and filming of the 120-extra backlot sequence.

"Good Morning Eli with Sam & Julie" (5:55) follows actors Sam Jaeger and Julie Gonzalo around on their routine visits to hair and make-up trailers. They and castmates trade sarcastic barbs about one another in this wacky, heavily scored and edited piece. While it's not much of a look behind the scenes, it is fun.

Matt Dowd (Sam Jaeger) bears red roses in a deleted scene showing his attempt at a romantic gesture. Natasha Henstridge proves she has swallowed her gum in Season 2 blooper reel "Circular File." The fire escape foursome chimes in above the lawyer's desk in Disc 3's main menu.

Under "Deleted Scenes", we get three short excisions from the first half of the season: Posner pitching Patti, a follow-up moment from the immigration episode, and Dowd trying to show Taylor his love with roses.
They're four minutes altogether, with the third running the longest.

Finally, "Circular File: Bloopers from Season Two" provides an amusing two minutes of goofs and profanity-bleeped antics.

Disc 1 loads with promos for ABC shows on DVD, "Brothers & Sisters": The Complete Third Season, "Grey's Anatomy": The Complete Fifth Season, The Proposal, and Blu-ray. While these aren't accessible from any menu, several other trailers are, via Disc 3's Sneak Peeks section. They promote 10 Things I Hate About You: 10th Anniversary Special Edition, "Scrubs": The Complete Eighth Season, "Samantha Who?": The Complete Second Season, Adventureland, American Son, and "Castle": The Complete First Season.

The DVD recycles Season 1's DVD menus, only with Season 2 clips now appearing over the office desk setting. Like last season, this one arrives in a standard-sized clear keepcase with a slipcover over it and disc contents on the reverse artwork. A booklet promoting Blu-ray is the only insert.

Victor Garber clenches his fist in a fiery performance of "You Don't Mess Around with Jim." Eli Stone (Jonny Lee Miller) gets hooked up to an EKG to moderate the last administration of The Dark Truth we'll ever get to see.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The smart, engaging drama "Eli Stone" was even stronger in its second season than its promising first. Unfortunately, since fewer people tuned in, the show has now ended, sooner than fans would like. One plus to being limited to a 26-episode run, the series stayed sharp and taut before production demands could weaken it.

ABC's final DVD for the program delivers a satisfactory presentation and a decent 23 minutes of bonus video. That is much less than what was offered on Season 1, which has now enjoyed a price drop. That is the appropriate place to start enjoying the series. If you're happy to already house that in your DVD collection, you would be apt to let this set join it.

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Reviewed September 9, 2009.



Text copyright 2009 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2008-09 Berlanti Television, ABC Studios, and Buena Vista Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.