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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2010-2011 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
LONE STAR (FOX)
(written by Kyle Killen; directed by Marc Webb; TRT: 44:18)
The network's description: "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."
What did they leave out? The character of Grace (Hannah Leigh), Cat's daughter from her first marriage, has been written out of the pilot.
The plot in a nutshell: Since he can remember Robert Allen (James Wolk) has lived the life of a con man. And under the tutelage of his father, John (David Keith), he's become the best in Texas. Currently they're selling shares in a bogus mining operation, one which has gained the approval of Houston oil man Clint Thatcher (Jon Voight). That and the fact Robert, or just "Bob" in this world, has married his beautiful daughter Cat (Adrianne Palicki). You see unlike Clint's other sons - layabout Drew (Bryce Johnson) and book-but-not-street-smart Trammell (Mark Deklin) - Bob has all the makings of the kind of self-made man he was. It's much to their chagrin then that Bob is given the literal keys to Clint's kingdom, one which John plans to rob blind.
Bob however, fed up with a lifetime of uncertainty and deception, wants to take the job for real. After all he's been lying about the oil game for so long he actually knows what he's talking about. John protests that he's kidding himself, even more so after he discovers that Bob has also built himself a second life in Midland, complete with neighborhood barbeques and a sweet townie girlfriend named Lindsay (Eloise Mumford). And despite the con-of-a-lifetime opportunity with the Thatchers, Bob insists of keeping both lives going - even when they threaten to overlap.
What works: First and foremost Marc Webb's direction is simply stunning - this doesn't look like anything you'll see during the coming season. There's a pace and nuance to it that's just plain extraordinary (sequences set to Mumford & Sons' "Awake My Soul" and The Antlers' "Kettering" are among the standouts) - so much so that I'm slightly horrified to see what subsequent episodes look like under different hands. In general, I'm surprised how well the show's concept goes down - on paper the "two girls, two cities" hook feels a little wonky but in practice there's a surprising emotional heft to it. While Cat and Lindsay are both cons, they're also both cons Bob is doing on himself - the former to feel what it's like to have a real life and a real job, the latter to feel what it would be like to live a normal humdrum life without the con game.
Wolk's performance then completely sells his character's need to have both worlds and his exasperated attempts to preserve them. After all, while most of us escape into hobbies or other recreational activities when the walls of life start to close in on us, Bob the con man does what a con man would do - con himself into thinking everything's going to be okay. Killen's script cleverly addresses the motivations behind all of the above - whether it be his reaction to a woman ("24's" Nazneen Contractor) soliciting him at a hotel bar or a gas station clerk (Garrett Graham) being pushed around by his dad - not to mention gives us John's perspective on just how foolish his son is being ("This is a house of cards, okay?" he explains in one of many ripe-for-promoed lines. "You don't get to live in it").
And from a soap standpoint, there's more than a few irons in the fire to keep things interesting as while Drew is thrilled by Bob's addition to the family, Trammell is none too pleased about being passed over. That and Clint prides himself on being an honorable man, one who doesn't take kindly to those who aren't. Overall it's nice to see a show about a "bad" guy who's not reveling in his misanthropy but rather trying to do better... or at least convince himself he's doing better.
What doesn't: It's definitely not a fast-paced or action-packed hour as if anything the pilot is just a meditation on Bob's predicament leading up to his final decision on what to do about it. From that perspective it's more HBO or AMC than on brand with FOX. That shouldn't scare you away though - none of the breakout hits of the past decade did so by fitting inside our expectations of how television should work. The real chinks in the show's armor then are the ladies, not for any performance reasons but because they're currently doe-eyed ciphers in Bob's world.
We aren't given any clue as to how they'd react to the truth, just that they love the lie they're inadvertently living. But one assumes all that will change as the show progresses. That aspect applies to the show as well - we're more or less trapped inside Bob's bubble, away from the consequences of what he's doing to not only the women in his life but the people he's taking money from (and smiling while he does it). It's a bold perspective to take and like all swing-for-the-fences shows...
The bottom line: ...I'll be cheering it on.