Those who have been watching Greg Berlanti‘s whimsical brain-damaged lawyer soap Eli Stone already know that gay pop icon George Michael plays a major role in the show’s overall mythology. He appears to the central character in visions and the episodes are named after the titles of his songs.
But in Thursday’s chapter of the quirky morality tale, Michael appears in the flesh to play himself after a high school student named Molly is expelled for playing "I Want Your Sex" in the middle of a school abstinence program. After learning about the girl’s expulsion, Michael secures Stone’s help to defend the girl in court.
I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous about seeing Michael appear as himself on the show. In recent years, the singer’s run-ins with the law have eclipsed his reputation as a musician, and his brief self-skewering appearances on Extras, Little Britain, and Catherine Tate have been a bit one-note. So I was pleasantly surprised to see that here Michael gets ample screen time, is at ease on camera, and has the opportunity to talk about something other than toilet sex. In fact, he acts as something of a moral compass for the episode.
When Michael first appears to Stone, the hallucination-happy attorney (played beautifully by Jonny Lee Miller, for those who haven’t tuned in) initially thinks that he’s just another apparition, as he has been visited by visions of the pop star since the first episode, leading him to do good. After overcoming the confusion (with the help of a rather gay-seeming temp — played by Jim Rash who played sort-of-gay on Help Me Help You) and agreeing to help the pop star with his case, he asks Michael why he picked him. The answer is surprising and fits in nicely with the show’s mythology. It also sets up some interesting questions to be answered down the road.
Michael’s participation in the case is a cause of unexpected excitement for Stone’s cranky boss (played by Broadway and Alias vet Victor Garber), who has the chance to sing "Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me" in one of the episode’s fantasy sequences. (Seriously, are they spiking the water at ABC? Are there any dramas on the net that don’t feature hallucinations or spontaneous musical numbers these days?)
When he’s called as a witness during the trial, Michael notes that he loves America and points out that right now this country needs more people like Molly, who stood up for what she believed and made a statement. His comments about the separation of church and state not being as clear as it should be won’t go unnoticed by those tired of the government preaching morality to its citizens.
Overall Michael comes across as intelligent, thoughtful, and very at-ease, and is comfortable acknowledging his own missteps and poking a little fun at his public image. His sexuality never comes up directly (no toilet sex jokes, thank God), but he does point out in court that he wrote "I Want Your Sex" about being in a relationship at the height of President Reagan’s lack of acknowledgment of the AIDS crisis.
The most notable thing about the episode is that Michael is presented as a hero. All we’ve heard about him Stateside for the past few years are his run-ins with the law and some questionable out-of-context soundbites, and it’s nice to see him playing an intelligent, sensitive benefactor. I don’t think that there are many people who don’t know that Michael is gay at this point, and the show seemed determined to move past the sensational aspects of his coming out and present him as a man of considerable character.
Overall, the episode is great, which is not surprising given how solid he show has been in general. If you haven’t yet taken the time to check it, tomorrow’s gay pop injection might be the perfect opportunity to do so.