Cable networks, which can build success from the audiences available to niche shows with limited appeal, have recently offered up a series of shows with characters designed to test the limits of audiences in ways that shrug off conventional thinking. Various criminals have taken center stage in experimental efforts to attract people to watch those who are, at best, extremely limited in their potential likability.
Lone Star, premiering tonight on FOX at 9/8c, skirts the line, but has to know that a certain segment of the population just isn’t going to sign up. James Wolk plays Robert/Bob Allen, a conman who came by the occupation by being raised into it. Growing up running from scam to scam with his father John (David Keith), Robert is still living the life, only now he’s working some pretty serious schemes.
Working an especially long con, he’s married to Cat (Adrianne Palicki), daughter of Clint (Jon Voight), an extremely wealthy oil baron in Houston. His aim is to get close enough to the family to make off with a fortune, and the game is pretty close to over. Over in Midland, he’s taking the savings of as many locals as he can, offering up bogus shares of some new process for extracting wealth from the earth.
He’s been in these lives for quite a while now, and the con life forever, and as this roll of the dice comes to a head, he’s got a problem. He wants out, and what he means by that is that he wants to stay in. Clint surprises him by offering him a job, and now Robert begins to wonder just what he’s supposed to be stealing. With a beautiful wife who loves him, a great house, and a cushy job that would more than cover his financial cares, he’s losing touch with the ‘sell’ of making off with a pile of cash.
Of course, living as a conman from birth is apt to put a person in strange places (from the inside out), and Robert also has a girlfriend, and a certain life, in Midland, and he wants to keep that too. Now he really has a tough road ahead, because his life in Midland is tangled up with a lot of people who are soon going to be very angry at him. Keeping things afloat is going to require all his conman skills, and he’s going to have to use his new, legitimate life to pay off his “investors,” if he wants to keep from getting lynched.
Leaving off the difficulty of a protagonist who doesn’t have a lot of “pro” going for him, Lone Star is also one of those increasingly common efforts that feel a lot more like a film than a series. Even if we decide to get on board, it’s hard to imagine how long this scenario can remain interesting.
Luckily, the show has James Wolk, and the immense charm that allows him to believably play a conman in the first place. With a lot on his shoulders, and a pilot that is practically impossible to pull off on paper, Wolk delivers Lone Star‘s possibilities in a way we haven’t seen on the small screen in many years. I suspect he is, somewhat counter-intuitively, aided by the fact that he is playing a character who is playing characters, because it is a complexity that either comes through brilliantly or horribly, without much chance of anything between.
Also pulled along well by a solid supporting cast, and a nearly perfect balance of drama, angst, and “can’t look away” fascination, it is (if nothing else) a pilot that could serve as a primer.
If forced to think things through, it may be hard to imagine where we’ll be ten or fifteen episodes in, and to what extent we’ll still be able to find interest, but for now it is without question the show to watch of the new season.
If Lone Star can capitalize on its potential, it will be the show everyone is talking about in the months to come.
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 LONE STAR, a provocative new drama set in Texas.
ROBERT/BOB ALLEN (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), the beautiful daughter of CLINT (Jon Voight), 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, naïve girlfriend, LINDSAY (Eloise Mumford).
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), admires Bob, his other brother-in-law, TRAMMELL (Mark Deklin), is growing suspicious of his motives. With the cons closing in on him, Bob begins to fear his secret lives may unravel as he becomes divided by his love for two women; his loyalty to his father and mentor, JOHN (David Keith); 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 growing 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.
LONE STAR is a production of 20th Century Fox Television, Depth of Field Productions and Keyser/Lippman Productions. The series is written and executive-produced by Kyle Killen. Chris Keyser, Amy Lippman, Kerry Kohansky, Paul Weitz and Peter Horton also serve as executive producers. Marc Webb directed the pilot.
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