Friday, March 7, 2008

"Eli Stone" and the Americans with Disabilities Act

SO the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it into a fictional TV show March 6 on "Eli Stone" and they actually pronounced it correctly. (I heard it wrongly referred to as the Americans with Disability Act on TV before.)

Anyway, "Eli Stone" is about a corporate lawyer with an inoperable brain aneurysm who has visions and starts taking on more meaningful clients. He's tried to keep his condition secret from almost everyone (his doctor brother and ex-fiancée know), and he breaks up with his fiancée because he doesn't want her to have to deal with his possible sudden death.

In the March 6 episode, his singing and diving for cover because of hallucinations send Eli to a State Bar Association hearing, which wants to disbar him for this erratic behavior in court. At the climactic moment, Eli reveals that the brain aneurysm causes his behavior (so he can save his doctor brother from perjuring himself about the aneurysm.) But then in a weird turn of events, the judge indicates he plans to disbar Eli anyway because he has a brain aneurysm?

I don't claim to know how a state bar association works, but disbarring someone because of a medical condition? Well, that's where the Americans with Disabilities Act comes in -- Eli's lawyer (his boss at his corporate law firm played by Victor Garber) announces on the news that they will be suing the the state bar association for medical discrimination using the Americans with Disabilities Act. They win, of course, but in another bizarre twist, Victor Garber's character banishes Eli to a future with no cases and a tiny office. (He can't fire him because of the vaccine case in the pilot episode.)

The ending was just a "huh?" for me. The boss felt so betrayed because an employee kept a life-threatening condition from him? I think any lawyer might have told Eli Stone NOT to tell his employer about it, and he IS a lawyer. If not for employment reasons, for health insurance reasons. The boss says Eli's secret opened the firm up to a malpractice lawsuit with his secret. "Huh?" again. One good aspect of the show is that Eli's condition and behaviors never appear to affect Eli's ability to do his job but are presented as positives in each episode. He's a more caring and creative attorney since his diagnosis, even if his odd behaviors sometimes worry other people.

All in all, the show has a few good things going for it. Like many people whose lives are changed by chronic illness or disability, Eli Stone keeps going, keeps living, but learns to do some things in his life in a different way. That's a good thing -- learning to adapt to a changing or different body is something everyone should learn as they age anyway.

The show also connects to Eastern medicine (Eli's confidant, who helps him revisit past memories of his father who had the same aneurysm condition is a Chinese acupuncturist.) and to a kind of spiritual symmetry. Each episode usually ends with an understanding of the interconnectedness of the song in Eli's head, his visions, and his legal case. Admittedly, I am sucker for a show that has twists and turns but connects it all in the end; I love closure. And personally, as someone who loves musicals, I like the singing and dancing visions in the show, especially when Victor Garber shows off his wonderful Broadway song-and-dance man skills for one of Eli's hallucinations. You can never have too much musical theater in a program, I always say. :-)