Friday, February 22, 2008

Edens v. Stone

Long-time listeners to Pop Culture America with John and Dave (I'm "John") know that Dave and I have had a recent difference of opinion about ABC's new lawyer-with-an-aneurysm show "Eli Stone." Dave thinks its delightful and I ... oh, what is the word? Oh yeah ... DON'T!

Because I have had other problems with TV shows where the main character experiences a sudden pseudo-religious quasi-epiphany (I didn't like "Saving Grace" either), Dave is of the opinion that I'm simply hostile to the subject matter. I don't think I am. I think anything can be done well, and conversely, anything can be done poorly. It isn't the subject matter, it's the execution. But when a pattern starts developing, it's worth a look.

Thankfully, I have the subject of yesterday's DVD review, the great Michael Clayton, to present as Exhibit A for the defense.

Both "Eli Stone" and Michael Clayton present similar scenarios: they both feature high-powered attorneys at the top of their respective games; the title character in "Stone" and Tom Wilkinson's character Arthur Edens in Clayton. Both men open their stories spearheading awful lawsuits: Edens is defending a chemical company that spreads poison, Stone is defending a drug company that caused autism. Both have episodes: Edens suffers a breakdown during a deposition and begins to speak of himself as "Shiva the God of Death," Stone sees George Michael in his living room and is informed that "you gotta have faith." Both go off on quests of a sort. Both end up attacking the very case they had been building.

But look at the differences after that. Stone doesn't suffer any consequences for his revelation. He even keeps his job despite doing a few dozen different things that would get any real lawyer disbarred. Edens, on the other hand, is all but ruined professionally, loses his position, his family, his nice home, and finally pays an ultimate, ghastly price.

Not that realism is the be-all and end-all of drama, but which one rings truer? Given the set up, which of these two actually deals with the issue it raises and which one treats that same issue as a jaunty lark?

Yes, movies and TV shows aren't the same. Yes, the Arthur Edens Show would have a brief run. But even in the context of a TV show, you can raise an important, relevant idea like faith and actually give it a little respect. And the best way to give it that respect is to treat it honestly, not like some yuppie accessory that's this week's Pierre Cardin.

In the case of Edens v. Stone, I rule in favor of the former. And I sentence the latter to be stricken from the record.

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