Public Service Announcement 19 of 2010: Chuck, Friday Night Lights, How I Met Your Mother, Eli Stone

Unpopcult favourite ‘Chuck’ is back for season 3 with, unusually for ‘Chuck’, a renewal for season 4 already in the bag.  Word on the third season from the US, where it has just finished, has been a bit mixed.  But we love ‘Chuck’, so don’t expect too much balanced criticism from us.  Virgin 1, 9pm, Monday 31 May.

A heads-up for a couple of other shows, while I’m here: with absolutely no fanfare whatsoever, season 2 of ‘Friday Night Lights’ has finally come to the UK.  Season 1 was more or less perfect, but we saw it here three years ago, since when another three seasons have been knocked off in America.  It’s been on ITV 4 on Tuesdays at 7.30pm, but the next episode is going to be at 1am on Thursday night/Friday morning, all of which suggests that the genius responsible for scheduling ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Larry Sanders’ at the BBC has finally found a new gig.  The whole season’s on iTunes anyway. 

Season 5 of ‘How I Met Your Mother’ has started on E4 on Thursdays at 9.30pm, meaning that after an impressive effort by the channel we’ve now more or less caught up with America, where the season has just finished.

And Unpopcult-approved ‘Eli Stone’ starts a tape-to-gun rerun on Fiver at 9pm on Wednesday 9 June.  It certainly had its ups and downs but overall it was pretty watchable.

Eli Stone – the unseen episodes

As this blog often seemed to have the world’s greatest concentration of ‘Eli Stone’ fans contributing to it – all three or four of us – I thought I should draw this to your attention.  In which ‘Eli Stone’ co-creator, Marc Guggenheim (now part of the ‘Flash Forward’ team – and we are so going to be all over ‘Flash Forward’ in a couple of months) sketches out the direction the show was going to take,  had it not been cancelled.

And having seen this, I’m relatively happy it was taken off the air when it was.  Pleased about the return of Grace; otherwise, meh.

Eli Stone s2 ep 13

The last ever ‘Eli Stone’, entitled ‘Flight Path’; and, happily, possibly the best ever episode of the show, bringing the whole thing to a dignified and satisfactory conclusion.  ‘Eli’, of course, has now been cancelled, and unless it has a ‘Family Guy’ afterlife on DVD – very unlikely – we won’t be seeing the perky associate, the sassy PA, Taylor the dude, and the rest of them ever again.  ‘Eli’ has rarely been appointment TV – I won’t miss it as much as I’m going to miss ‘Pushing Daisies’ which has a genuine and startling originality -but it’s generally been watchable.

Where, though, did it go wrong for ‘Eli’, which had a decent pedigree, George Michael cameos, and a cast sprinkled with well-known names, all of which should have got it off to a flying start?  Here’s a few ideas:

  • Jonny Lee MillerAs I suggested in an earlier review he was really playing a John Cage de nos jours: a quirky and occasionally charming supporting character, but surely not with enough charisma to carry the show.  And with the character name in the title, the show stood or fell very much on the success of the character of Eli.
  • Natasha Henstridge.  No, no, no.  From the get-go Taylor was unlikeable and had absolutely no chemistry with nominal fiancé Miller.  Shoehorning Taylor into a pregnancy and a completely unbelievable relationship with Dowd was presumably intended to increase likeability.  Not here, it didn’t.
  • Victor Garber.  The godlike Garber strode through season 1, master of all he surveyed.  Then the producers decided to try and make Jordan softer and more likeable too.  Why?  It was working so well.
  • The “romances”.  In what was supposed to be a dramedy I have never seen more relationships which failed to convince.  In one episode, and one episode only,  it worked:  Miller and Katie Holmes in a touching little love story.  But apart from that: Eli and Taylor?  Taylor and Dowd?  Maggie and Paul?  Nate and Beth?  The Eli and Maggie relationship was the best of a bad bunch, and even they were kept apart by plot contrivances.
  • The perky associate.  I liked her.  And she turned the perkiness down quite a lot in season 2.  I rather fear that I’m in a minority, though.

But ‘Flight Path’ worked.  It dealt well with an ongoing ‘Eli Stone’ theme: the clash between faith and rationality, and did so on a number of levels.  Case of the Week found Eli acting for a dying woman (played by our old friend Jaime Murray, of “Pardon my tits!” fame in ‘Dexter’) who was being denied a heart transplant because she was an atheist and the donor’s family was religious.  Meantime the whole issue of Eli and his visions – divinely inspired or hallucinations? – was being tackled again as the Vision of the Week showed a plane crash, probably involving someone known to Eli.  As a plot point this of course meant that the cast was positively queueing up to fly, Eli desperately trying to dissuade them. 

Elsewhere, other storylines were being wrapped up as neatly as circumstances allowed: Dowd and Taylor, presumably optimistic about the future for legal same-sex marriages, got engaged; Jordan started to reach out to his estranged wife; the sassy PA spent much of the episode – although not enough – as a disembodied voice on the end of a phone.

And back with the main action, with Maggie and Paul about to fly off, more Dark Truth, the usual disregard of professional ethics, a hint of Grace, a bit of tragedy, and an exploding aneurysm, we just about got there.  The debate about religion and reason ended up in the grey area of the uneasy compromise where a lot of us live our lives. 

And Eli and Maggie?  I’ll stick that in the comments section in case people want to avoid a spoiler for now.  Take it easy, Eli.

Eli Stone s2 ep 12

The penultimate ‘Eli Stone’, entitled ‘Tailspin’, and one of the best yet. 

The Vision of the Week unfolds cleverly over the course of the episode.   To start with it looks as if it might be another prophecy, but in fact it’s another revelation re-connecting Eli with his past.  It’s set in 1996 and it’s on a plane which, some Googling reveals, later crashed.  It turns out that Eli’s father went onto the plane, having had a vision of his own, and warned the passengers that it was going to crash, some of whom got off in consequence (including a young Grace).  Although wouldn’t it make its way into the media coverage of the crash had some crazy-eyed prophet saved some of the passengers on a doomed plane?

Anyway, Case of the Week is picked up by Jordan, when he represents a worker in the hotel he’s staying in (a fairly tony hotel for someone whose legal firm is on its uppers, but let’s not split too many plot hairs this late in the d.).  Said worker was previously dismissed by a company which needed to cut costs to survive, and Wethersby Stone manage to sue the former CEO of the company for some sort of made-up malpractice.  The case, joyously, is presided over by our old and revered friend Daniel Benzali, who was at the centre of perhaps the best TV legal drama ever, the first season of ‘Murder One’.  And it comes to an implausible but crowd-pleasing climax. 

Elsewhere, and with the whiff of cancellation in the air, there’s a lot of reconciliation going on: Eli and Nate; Eli and Chen; Jordan and Taylor.  With the previously reptilian Dowd now completely reborn as Mr Metrosexual there’s a vacancy for a bad guy.  So step forward Paul, the new man in the perky associate’s life.  Yet again, though, the writers manage to put a completely unbelievable relationship together: Paul, let us be blunt, is a colossal prick, and although the writers try to mitigate that late on with some “I’m just playing a role” dialogue it doesn’t work. 

But I enjoyed this a lot.  Plenty going on, Wethersby Stone apparently saved for a grateful nation, and all that remains is to see whether the writers play to the crowd in the final episode by flinging Eli and Maggie together.

Eli Stone s2 ep 11

The title of this episode, ‘Mortal Combat’, refers both to the courtroom struggle between Eli and the perky associate, and to the Vision of the Week: Eli keeps seeing gladiators.  Fortunately, before he visualises a Turkish prison, or a grown man naked, we get to the real action.

This is a continuation of the case trailed last week, in which an old-style TV anchorman claims to have been dismissed by his TV company because he wanted to run a story critical of one of the company’s major advertisers; a charge denied by the company (whose CEO is played by our old friend James Morrison, who is – sorry, was – Bill Buchanan in ‘24‘).

And because Wethersby Stone only accept instructions in cases where their opponent is represented by Posner Klein, and specifically by the Dowd and the perky associate, we’re off again with Eli vs Maggie and Taylor vs Matt.  But this time it’s even more personal because, as the five or six people who’ve seen it will recall, in last week’s episode Eli and Maggie did the nasty; and this week, in consequence, Maggie is the nasty.  “So you don’t know what’s gotten into her?” Taylor enquires of Eli.  Eli, of course, has a pretty good idea what got into her; he was there.

The perky associate having been reborn as Turbo-Lawyer, Eli and Taylor have a fight on their hands, and the stakes are raised when Jordan confides that unless they win the case, and win big, the nascent firm of Wethersby Stone is going under.  Oooooh!

And so we go on, with some tedious bickering between this season’s least-likeable couple, Dowd and Taylor, and Eli appearing to realise belatedly that the perky associate’s rather nice and quite pretty as well, and clearly up for it.  But perhaps it’s too late, as she too seems to be falling into the arms of a repellent new boyfriend, and there’s only two episodes to go.  When the obits for ‘Eli Stone’ get written – and we’ll set the ball rolling here in a couple of weeks – we can start by wondering why it was that the writers contrived to keep apart the only couple that the viewers might have rooted for.

Eli Stone s2 ep 10

On, then, to the episodes not yet seen by American viewers.  And I can’t help thinking that the producers missed a trick by calling this one ‘Sonoma’ – after the Californian town where most of the action takes place – instead of ‘Eli And Maggie Finally Do It’.   But I’m getting ahead of the action a bit.

While Eli is recovering after last week’s nosebleed and Dark Truth, it turns out that his aneurysm has bred, and he now has two.  It isn’t going to stop him from doing his job, though, even if that means a journey out of town.  So it’s a road trip episode, and one of the very few opinions that CJ and I share about TV is that we’re not so mad on the road trips. 

In fairness, though, this was lightweight but enjoyable fluff.  Eli, Taylor, Dowd, and the perky associate find themselves in a car travelling to Sonoma to interview a witness.   With Eli and Taylor on one side of the case, and Dowd and Perky on the other, there is, unusually, a bit of ethical agonising about the propriety of them travelling together, but nothing that stops them.

Anyway, they fetch up in Sonoma, and for reasons which need not trouble us here have to represent the person they’ve travelled to meet, as she’s being prosecuted for something else.  It turns out that an ex of Dowd’s is now the local judge, and since the relationship with the Dowd didn’t end well she’s keen to use her position to take revenge.  The result is Dowd and Taylor both in the cells for contempt.

Back at the hotel, though, the perky associate is getting ever perkier, having had a few drinks.  As has Eli, double aneurysm and all.  And, so, one thing, as they say, leads to another, and in particular it leads to Eli hitting it.  Which for the ‘shippers should be good news, but in the morning Eli’s all weird about it, this being his default position in respect of the endless line of attractive women (and Taylor) flinging themselves at him. 

I don’t know if it’s casting or acting, but Eli Stone as played by Jonny Lee Miller doesn’t seem to me to be either charismatic or attractive enough to be San Francisco’s leading babe magnet.  A bit of charm, I suppose, but is that enough to hypnotise all these women in the face of his apparent indifference to them?  I dunno.

Round the margins, two unwelcome developments: the Book is back, and Jordan and the sassy PA go to a fundraiser together.  They couldn’t, could they?  Not that it matters much at this stage, I suppose; three to go.

Eli Stone s2 ep 9

First the extraordinary news: although this is, as I understand it, the last episode seen by American viewers, as far as I can see Sci-Fi UK does indeed have the rights to the last four episodes and will be showing them.

But let’s hope they’re a bit better than this; not one of the best.  Vision of the Week – more Dark Truth – follows on from last week’s vision of Nate and Beth splitting up.  In due course this will indeed be the second engagement sabotaged by Eli and his visions in a matter of weeks, and the second fiancee who prefers Eli to her husband-to-be in spite of Eli’s indifference.  There may be a good reason to recycle this plot but I’m fecked if I can see it.

Case of the Week is about a transgendered minister who is dismissed by his church for, um, transgendering.  Unfortunately for the ‘Eli Stone’ casting director, the ideal person to play a transman was already in employment with the programme.

 My immediate thought was that the minister had consulted Wethersby Stone because of their enlightened employment policy towards the LGBT community, demonstrated by the hiring of Taylor, but in fact it turns out that Keith is a member of his congregation.  Uniquely for this show Keith actually recognises the conflict of interest, but the ethical black hole that is Eli doesn’t let him away that easily.

Meantime in the world of Taylor and Dowd their unborn child might have genetic problems; not wholly surprising given what must have been the unusual circumstances of the conception.  Taylor, confused and in need of solace, wanders into the ladies’ restroom by mistake and immediately turns about on seeing a woman there.  But halt!  It’s the sassy PA dispensing some wisdom.  Oh God.

Yes, I know this is largely just a string of Taylor jokes.  Not much else happening this week, I’m afraid.