How George Michael Helped Shape the Forgotten TV Show 'Eli Stone'

The short-lived ABC legal drama prominently featured George Michael.
December 27, 2016, 4:19pm

In 2008, Greg Berlanti (Arrow, The Flash) and Marc Guggenheim co-created Eli Stone, an unconventional legal drama that aired on ABC for two seasons—the first of which was cut short by the writers' strike. Despite its brief existence on the air, the series remains intriguing for two particularly memorable elements: It centered on a lawyer who might be a prophet but definitely has a brain aneurysm, and it also basically functioned as an ongoing tribute to George Michael.


Currently available to binge on Hulu, Eli Stone follows the basic structure of a legal procedural. The titular corporate lawyer, Eli (Jonny Lee Miller), has a new case each episode, but the overall narrative is tied together by several ongoing juicy and slightly scandalous storylines (infighting within the firm, an ex- fiancée, an old flame who dates his brother). To counterbalance any encroaching legal mundanity, Eli begins having wild hallucinations (while in a work meeting, during foreplay) that he learns are caused by a brain aneurysm—but his acupuncturist-turned-confidant Dr. Chen (James Saito) believes that Eli may actually be a prophet, helping Eli to understand the meanings of these visions. What's inspired about Eli Stone is that it doesn't turn into a weekly rumination on religion; it's most reminiscent of Joan of Arcadia, a CBS series about a teen girl who regularly talks to God but mostly keeps religion at arms' length. Eli Stone specifically finds levity in its premise, keeping things silly even when Eli faces down death.

But what stands out the most is George Michael. In the pilot, Eli's first hallucination comes in the form of the pop singer: He begins hearing Michael's song "Faith" everywhere, culminating with "seeing" the singer perform it in Eli's living room. (There's a silly explanation for why Eli's hallucinations are focused on George Michael, but the reveal is better when watching it yourself.) The episode itself isn't the strongest (I'll never understand why the writers thought it would be a good idea to intro the series with a misguided vaccinations/autism court case), but it's a surprising amount of fun, especially when George Michael actually shows up. The device is a clever wink and acceptably cutesy (at one point, Eli informs the courtroom that, yes, they've gotta have faith), and it's hard to picture it succeeding with any other singer.


George Michael is prominent throughout the whole series. Berlanti is a huge fan of the singer—he briefly eulogized George Michael on Twitter on Sunday—and he lucked out that George Michael was down to pop up in the show every now and then. His songs basically soundtracked the entire series (featured in 12 of the 26 total episodes), and every episode of the first season is named after a George Michael track. His second cameo was in the seventh episode, "Heal the Pain," but his biggest appearance was the ninth, "I Want Your Sex," arguably one of the season's standout episodes.

Eli Stone delightfully blended comedy, legal drama, and fantasy—but "I Want Your Sex" succeeded in turning fantasy into reality, bringing George Michael out of Eli's hallucinations and into Eli's office. When a high school student is suspended for playing the titular song over her school's PA system to protest the administration's "Abstinence Only" sex-education policy, George Michael shows up at the law firm to ask Eli to take the case. It's a role-reversal, too: This time, Michael had a dream about Eli and decided to seek him out.

It's also the perfect plot for George Michael; not only does he get to have fun—the singer was clearly up for whatever in the episode, even taking jabs at himself when someone confuses him for Bono—but the courtroom sequence allows Michael to elaborate on the meaning behind the song, and to share some of his well-known sex positive ideals as he helps elevate the episode's message about the ineffectiveness of abstinence-only programs.

But George Michael's last appearance on the show—the season one finale "Soul Free"—was most indicative of the infectious fun and joy that he brought to the series. He appears to Eli as a God-like figure, teaming up with co-stars Loretta Devine and Victor Garber, to perform a fantastical rendition of "Feeling Good" that brings together multiple elements from the first season.

In the grand scheme of all of George Michael's accomplishments—music and otherwise— Eli Stone is a small blip, as well as one that is mostly forgotten. But it showcases how game George Michael was for branching out and exploring other opportunities—especially ones where he got to have a good time.

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