I was recently invited to screen the pilot episode of one of FOX’s most hyped new shows for fall, Lone Star (Mondays, 9PM EST, FOX, starting September 20th). I don’t usually get invites to screen things – I’m generally the snarky one who recaps the shows after everyone has seen them already – so I jumped at the opportunity. It didn’t matter to me that the show didn’t seem like “my type” of show; I had an opportunity to bring some insight to the Pop Bunker readers, and at the same time procure myself some FOX swag.
Yes, the main carrot for me was that I was supposed to view this pilot with a bunch of my friends and have a “Lone Star viewing party”. Being a married man with three small children, I don’t actually have any friends, while there wasn’t going to be a party, I would do the main objective of the campaign – talk about Lone Star while being bribed with various trinkets with the Lone Star logo. Win-win.
Lone Star, in FOX’s words:
From Chris Keyser and Amy Lippman, the creators of “Party of Five”; Marc Webb, the director of “(500) Days of Summer”; and creator Kyle Killen, comes LONESTAR, a provocative soap set against the backdrop of big Texas oil. ROBERT/BOB ALLEN (newcomer James Wolk) is a charismatic and brilliant schemer who has meticulously constructed two lives in two different parts of Texas. He’s juggling two identities and two women in two very different worlds – all under one mountain of lies. As “Bob,” he lives in Houston and is married to CAT (Adrianne Palicki, “Friday Night Lights”), the beautiful daughter of CLINT (Jon Voight, 24, “Midnight Cowboy”), the patriarch of an ultra-wealthy Texas oil family. More than 400 miles away in the suburban west Texas town of Midland, he’s “Robert,” living a second life with his sweet, naive girlfriend, LINDSAY (Eloise Mumford, “Mercy,” “Law & Order: SVU”). In Midland, he plays the perfect boyfriend while secretly bilking local investors of their savings. In Houston, he’s a devoted husband, charming Cat and her family to cement his position in the rich family business he aims to clean out. Bob has lived both lives successfully for years without arousing any suspicions…so far. While one brother-in-law, DREW (Bryce Johnson, “Popular,” “The Mentalist”), admires Bob, his other brother-in-law, TRAMMELL (Mark Deklin, “Nip/Tuck,” “Desperate Housewives”), is suspicious of his motives. Bob begins to fear his secret lives may unravel. With the cons closing in on him, Bob is divided by his love for two women; his loyalty to his father and mentor, JOHN (David Keith, “An Officer and a Gentleman,” “The Class”); and his respect for his father-in-law, Clint. Now as he tries to hold his two lives together, while fending off angry investors and the suspicions of those around him, Bob puts it all on the line hoping he can beat the odds, leave the schemes behind and keep two separate relationships afloat.
My first thought reading this was that the show didn’t have much to pull in a viewer – perhaps why FOX is pushing the pilot so hard. The main character is put into a role where it is difficult for viewers to sympathize or even like him. At the same time, the plotline seems like a one-trick pony; take out the “wife & girlfriend” thing and what else is left? The names didn’t pull me in either; Jon Voight is fine I guess, and I will always see David Keith as Jack Parkman from Major League 2, but I don’t know anyone else. It’s not like I thought the show would be bad – just not something I’d make an effort to watch.
After viewing the pilot, I can say that I’m pleasantly surprised. James Wolk, who plays the main character “Bob Allen”, has a charm to him that makes him a believable con man. The role was reportedly passed on by Josh Lucas and James Marsden, which I think is a blessing in disguise for the show. When you’re trying to establish a show based so strongly on a character’s personality, it’s difficult to shake off an actor’s previous roles while you watch. I couldn’t imagine Cyclops going door to door trying to get people to sign over their savings. Wolk comes off friendly and charming, two traits absolutely necessarily to sell him as the great con man they claim him to be.
The script is well-written, and needs to be in order for the show to remain successful. Creator Kyle Killen is quoted as saying that he pitched Lone Star as “Dallas without the cheese” and it would be so easy to go down that road with the Springer-esque basis that you have for the plot. But the pilot keeps things subtle, almost a little too subtle at first as the first fifteen minutes or so of the show do seem a bit slow. But the build is done well, as Killen forgoes the all-too-easy character monologue explaining why Bob Allen is the way he is for allowing us to see in his actions that the character is a little more complex than just a man trying to have a relationship with two different women.
One of the things that concerns me about how the “Bob Allen” character is being portrayed is that he seems almost too likeable, where you start to wonder how he has gotten as far and as deep as he has in the con game. It is hinted that Bob is a con man because of his father (whom David Keith, in contrast, could play for the rest of his life) and that if not for his father’s influence would be just a swell guy helping old ladies across the street and saving kittens from trees. But if Bob’s heart wasn’t really in it, he wouldn’t be as “good” of a con man as he supposedly is. This is something that can surely be explored in future episodes.
The pilot does a good job focusing on Bob – which is its main purpose – but we don’t learn much about the rest of the characters. Bob’s love interests are angled in a “city girl/country girl” manner; Bob’s girlfriend Lindsay (played by Eloise Mumford) is portrayed as a down-home sweet, loyal and therefore naïve girl next door, while Bob’s wife Cat (played by Adrianne Palicki – “Tyra Collette” from Friday Night Lights) is a savvy daddy’s girl born into money. Neither are explored much deeper than that. Voight plays Cat’s father and the head of an oil company in pretty much the stereotypical old rich Texan way, corporate because he needs to be but still ready to kick your ass out back or worse because he’s just a little bit crazy. We meet Cat’s two brothers as well – Trammell (Mark Delkin), who is the “favorite” son and kind of a dick, and Drew (Bryce Johnson – “Josh Ford” from Popular), who is written off by his father and Trammell. Trammell doesn’t like/trust Bob (we can see how that’s going to go) while Drew is drawn to him, mainly because Bob wasn’t aware that he was supposed to blow Drew off. All these characters seem to be basic and straightforward, which may be intentional for twists down the line.
As for the pilot as a whole, it does its job – it made me want to see more episodes. The fact that it isn’t “over the top” maybe is what appeals to me; Killen seems content to let the story build slowly and dramatically which is great, but I’m not sure how audiences will respond to that after a few episodes. The slow builds might bore some viewers and I could see Lone Star having difficulty holding a steady viewing audience, causing FOX to go in the other direction and push for the cheaper payoffs that are easier to sell in advertising, but eventually losing the essence of what originally drew people to the show.
RECOMMENDATION: Check it out. I’ll be giving it a test run to see if it can continue to hold me as a viewer, and I think it deserves that much. There’s a good amount of potential here, but it’s not like FOX hasn’t been quick to pull the plug on well-written shows in the past.
(Oh, my loot? Soft cooler, four plastic champagne glasses, ice bucket, four plastic beer mugs, corkscrew/bottle opener, aluminum tub of buttered popcorn and caramel corn, napkins, flashlight keychain, and t-shirt – with the Lone Star logo emblazoned on it all.)