One of the things I have loved about Eli Stone from the beginning is that it’s sly enough to poke fun of itself, but not awkwardly self-conscious about it. It’s the quality that’s carried it through the occasional preachiness and given it enough charm to carry a couple of episodes that might have been a little lackluster otherwise.

Like the whole George Michael concept, for example. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

We start with Eli, accompanied by his brother Nate, investigating the risks of removing his aneurysm — and in doesn’t look good. The possible complications — paralysis, loss of speech, death — are awful, and understandably Eli’s looking to find the best possible doc. As he’s leaving the hospital, he bumps into Beth Keller (Laura Benanti), the mother who alleged that a vaccine preservative led to her son’s autism in the first episode. (The Eli Stone entry on IMDB shows Benanti on board for several episodes, so you knew she had to come back another time.) She tells him to call her if he ever needs to talk, and all I can think of is please God, let this be a definitive speed bump on the Eli-Maggie highway (I’m totally with Andy on this one).

In the midst of a staff meeting conversation about how a tough judge with leukemia has retained the firm to sue the bone marrow donor who backed out, Eli has another hallucination: Jordan (Victor Garber) singing "Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me," and introducing George Michael. Eli comes out of the hallucination and bumps into … George Michael. And thinks he’s a hallucination. Bradley the temp mistaking Michael for Bono is priceless — as is Michael’s reaction: "Yeah, it happens all the time. I had the glasses first, by the way."

Michael is looking to retain Eli to represent a Molly, a girl who was expelled from her high school for playing "I Want Your Sex" at an abstinence-only sex education assembly. And it turns out, he had a dream where someone told him to hire a lawyer named Eli Stone. By the way, I’m not cynical or anything, but do you think George Michael’s appearance on the show has anything to do with the fact that he just announced a new tour of the U.S.? Just asking.

Jordan insists on supervising Eli because of a firm stipulation that a senior partner has to oversee all

cases involving a high-profile figure. And he’s a stammering mess when he meets George Michael, which is just plain brilliant. I repeat what I’ve said before: God bless you, Garber.

Molly, wily high school senior that she is, played the song to protest the sex ed assembly that offers no practical information about sex, and according to her makes kids think condoms don’t work. On the stand, she talks about how her lab partner got pregnant, and how another friend got a sexually transmitted disease. Jordan leaps up to offer several overbearing objections, and back at the office, Eli asks if he isn’t just a bit of a fan boy, sending Jordan off in a huff. The interaction between the two is great, with just the right edge of humor and needling, and I could watch them all day.

Eli’s next vision is Taylor and Matt Dowd dressed in hippie garb, warbling "I Got You Babe," leading him to confront Taylor and ask if she’s involved with Dowd. Did I miss something? When did Eli’s visions go from being allegories about the case at hand to premonitions? I appreciate that they’re evolving, but this just felt a little bit tacked on to me.

On the stand, Molly’s principal admits the real reason for her expulsion: the only sex ed program the federal government will fund in the school is abstinence only. And the argument about this policy, as well as an allusion to the separation of church and state, is laid out by the next witness — one Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou. The song, while provocative, is actually about abstinence and commitment, Michael testifies — and there should be more people like Molly.

Meanwhile, in Judge Doyle’s case, we find out that Scott, the son whose bone marrow he’s laying claim to, is estranged. Better yet, let’s call it what it really is: abandoned. The judge hasn’t seen him since the divorce 19 years ago, when Scott was 2. Dowd gets the judge on the stand and tells a story about his own father abandoning him, to get the judge to admit that he wants to live, and he feels that Scott has an obligation as family to help him. Sam Jaeger offers up some fine acting here, and you actually get the sense you’re getting to know a little bit about Dowd’s character. Of course we, like Taylor, are duped — we just didn’t sleep with him. And in the end, the case is ruled in favor of the son; no obligation exists for him to help.

Outside work, Eli and Beth go to dinner, and they’re having a great time reminiscing and getting to know one another again. Until he finds out that she’s dating Nate — which completely humiliates Eli, freaks him out, and leads to a late-night Stone brother confrontation that’s ultimately forgiven.

Back in Molly’s case, she refuses the principal’s offer to reinstate her to school, saying that what she really wants is a decent sex ed program. The principal balks, saying that there’s no funding — which of course, George Michael offers to remedy with a benefit.

And speaking of forgiveness, there’s a little thaw in Eli and Jordan’s relationship. Jordan talks to his ex-future-son-in-law about his early days at the firm, when George Michael’s music on the cleaning crew’s boom box was what kept him going — and what continues to remind him of "the better days." 

What did you think? Did some of the discussion of abstinence-only programs sound a little bit sermon-y to you? Were you taken in by Matt Dowd’s story? Would you buy a ticket to see George Michael?

Posted by:Lisa Todorovich