"Eli Stone" is adorable.
Now if it would just stop trying so hard to make us adore it.
There are far worse flaws for a TV show to have than a propensity to overwork adorability. But this highly enjoyable mix of faith and fantasy will do better in the long run if it can learn to lay back a bit -- like by resisting the urge to put its lead, the instantly likable Jonny Lee Miller, through ever-cuter contortions simply because he's able to carry them off.
Produced by Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim, who last teamed on "Brothers & Sisters," this flamboyant leap of faith from ABC casts Miller as Eli Stone, a San Francisco shark of a lawyer who is dedicated to his own Holy Trinity: Armani, accessories and ambition. That all changes when Eli begins to see visions, opening with George Michael in the living room singing "Faith."
Before he knows it, the visions are prodding him to use his legal skills to right social wrongs rather than contribute to them. Which, as you can imagine, does not go over well with his boss (the always-welcome Victor Garber) or the boss's daughter (Natasha Henstridge), who also is Eli's fiancée.
What's causing Eli to see dancers in his office and mountains on his balcony? Maybe his doctor brother (Matt Letsher) is right and the visions are the product of an inoperable brain tumor. Or maybe he's a modern-day prophet getting help-the-helpless advice from above, the option chosen by his acupuncturist (an amusing James Saito). You can make your own choice between the scientific or the divine, but the show's cards are obviously on a heavenly table.
The mix of fantasy interludes and trial drama calls to mind "Ally McBeal," but in "Eli" they're more closely linked. His visions lead him through his cases while encouraging him to become a better person, much in the way fate issued cryptic orders in the similarly delightful "Wonderfalls."
By all rights, "Eli" should make Miller a star. But the cast is solid throughout, including a fun turn by Loretta Devine as Eli's no-nonsense secretary. It's hard not to like a show that extends its warmth even to characters you expect to be unsympathetic and that expands its entertainment vocabulary to music, dancing and flights of fancy.
Still, some of the flights need grounding. The cases need to be bolstered, and as enjoyable as it is to see Eli chased by a biplane, the trick loses steam through over-repetition. There are only so many times Eli can get sucked into a hallucinatory dance number before he, and we, figure it out -- and they've already hit the limit.
And you know what happens when you hit viewers too hard, right? They hit back.