There's no better punching bag than TV. People blame it for depicting too much violence, too much sex; for letting loose too much profanity.
But when TV shows come along that don't fit the TV-is-bad world view, too often viewers don't tune in ("Friday Night Lights") or they simply take non-offensive programming for granted.
That unfortunate, unfair dynamic comes to mind while watching ABC's "Eli Stone," a series with heart and soul that enters its second season tonight at 10 on WTAE.
- When: 10 tonight, WTAE.
- Starring: Jonny Lee Miller.
The show is not religious, but it certainly traffics in the spiritual as it explores the life of Eli Stone (Jonny Lee Miller), a corporate lawyer with an aneurysm who imagines his co-workers singing and dancing in sequences that lead him to helping others. Eli has long blamed the aneurysm for these flights of fantasy, but his friend Dr. Chen (James Saito) speculates that Eli may be a prophet.
At the end of last season, Eli had the aneurysm surgically removed, which could be the end of the series. Of course, it's not. Instead, after an encounter with "God's fiduciary," rather than trying to explain away what's happening to him, Eli takes charge of his destiny and owns his abilities in a way he previously has not.
How this all comes about involves the fate of one of Eli's co-workers, his own conversations with a therapist (guest star Sigourney Weaver) and a courtroom fight that pits evidence against faith, what can be proven against what can be believed. How many TV shows dare to even raise such questions? Not many.
"Eli Stone" can be sentimental, but the warm and fuzzy it delivers doesn't seem out of place in a series that routinely traffics in song and dance sequences that now appear in the opening moments of each episode to better capitalize on the "Dancing With the Stars" lead-in. (Series regular Loretta Devine, one of the original stars of Broadway's "Dreamgirls," gets the spotlight tonight.)
Returning fans will be rewarded with glimpses of all the show's primary characters tonight; new viewers might not follow all the relationship connections among the characters, but the Eli story at the core is clear.
Next week's episode, featuring game guest star Katie Holmes ("Dawson's Creek"), broadens the show's mythology in a way that may fall too far on the side of hocus-pocus, but it does tighten the bond between Eli and his brother, Nate (Matt Letscher).
When "Eli Stone" began in January, it quickly fell into a formulaic rut. But by the end of its 13-episode first season, the show had gotten itself out of that repetitive pattern. In the first two episodes of the new season, "Eli Stone" continues to avoid predictability while the show's legal cases echo the themes in the character-driven stories.
A quality series that's the TV equivalent of comfort food, the emergence of "Eli Stone" from the Hollywood firmament may qualify as a minor miracle among more cynical viewers. Regardless, the series rewards the faithful and faithless in equal measure.