Lately the troubled and morally questionable characters of television like Don Draper of Mad Men and Walter White of Breaking Bad have been sweeping audiences off their feet. But Fox is hoping that an alliterative name isn’t the key to their success as they’re sending Bob Allen (James Wolk in his first starring role) into the ring of anti-heroes. Stepping into the void left behind by the cancellation of FX’s gypsy con-family drama The Riches, Fox’s new series Lone Star puts us right in the middle of the double-life of a con-man as he contemplates giving up his conveniently mobile and fraudulent life in favor of real love. The only problem is that real love comes in the form of both his middle-class, homegrown girlfriend in Midland, Texas and his upper-class, oil tycoon offspring of a wife in Houston, Texas. If you’re not onboard for the long-con just yet, find out why you should be after the jump.
Perhaps the greatest achievement in this pilot can be found in its success to make audiences love its adulterous and deceptive main character Bob Allen. As we see the childhood version of Allen quickly being packed up and helped out an apartment window by his father while an unknown angry man knocks on their door demanding his money, it’s clear why the senior Allen tells young Bob to “keep your life in the case, not in the closet.” But 20 years later Bob seems to have settled down (complete with his wardrobe in the closet) with a loving girlfriend Lindsay (Eloise Mumford) in a quaint Midland, Texas home. That is until he heads off on his seemingly regular business trips to sell some wacky sounding new mixture of rock, chemicals and water (which somehow creates gasoline) to any sucker that will listen. But when Bob calls Lindsay about his smooth business trip as he pulls into his hotel, it turns out his accommodations are actually his second home in Houston, Texas where he’s married to Cat Thatcher (Adrianne Palicki) an oil tycoon’s daughter.
Though everything seems to be going well with his double life, when the opportunity that he and his father (who hasn’t stopped controlling Bob’s life and forcing him to live the lie) finally arises in the form of a legitimate job at Cat’s father’s oil company, Bob’s desire for a real life becomes clear. His father won’t have it, and harps on him to give up his life in Midland. But when I said that love came in the form of both his girlfriend and his wife, you know that Bob’s choice is not going to be easy. Without spoiling the pilot itself, Bob’s choices for his future allow for a compelling series that can go anywhere. Honestly, with a long-con like this, the potential within this series just from the pilot alone has my mind racing.
The story is helped infinitely by two factors: a remarkable cast and phenomenal direction. As far as the actors go, the fact that Wolk seems so comfortable as the leading man in a series that will have to contend with the big guns of The Event and Hawaii Five-0 (not to mention returning series like Chuck and House M.D.) on Monday nights, should be reason enough to tune in to the show. Meanwhile Jon Voight seems comfortable on television as the intimidating oil tycoon Clint Thatcher. Meanwhile Bob’s two loves (Palicki and Mumford) each have their own charms and one isn’t easily more appealing than the other (hence Bob’s dilemma and equal love). Meanwhile the Thatcher brothers Drew (a womanizing meat-head played by Bryce Johnson) and Trammell (a suspicious and threatening adversary played by Mark Deklin) may have opposing ideas on whether to dispatch with or embrace Bob in his growing presence not just in their family, but in their business.
All these characters are shaped and presented by the amazing work of director Marc Webb who uses cons of his own behind the camera as he reveals the different facets of Bob’s life through misdirection and surprise. But perhaps Webb’s greatest achievement is to make what is essentially, dark and deceitful material seem light enough to entertain without losing any of the weight or significance that the unfolding drama contains. The show is fun while being wholly tense and suspenseful, and that’s not easy.
THE FINAL WORD: While there’s certainly shows in this fall’s line-up that I was hoping to fall in love with, Lone Star came out of left field to impress me with its grounded writing , stellar soundtrack and cinematic storytelling that almost feels too big for the small screen. If people find big shows like The Event to be a lame duck (though I’ve already taken the bait), Lone Star could be the dark horse. Perhaps it’s the work of director Marc Webb (fresh off his breakout work on (500) Days of Summer), or maybe the instant likability of James Wolk despite taking on a a character responsible for some pretty despicable and unethical behavior, but whatever the key ingredient of this pilot’s success, there’s no doubt it’s one of the best of the season.
Lone Star premieres Monday, September 20th (tonight) at 9/8c on Fox.