Watching Lone Star: FOX, Mondays at 9/8c

Check out the pilot for Fox’s Lone Star via Hulu here

Much like a good con man must, FOX’s Lone Star has way more going on than meets the eye.

This was not a show big on my radar prior to its premiere last Monday night, but the unanimously excellent reviews I read led me to at least set my DVR to record it.

I didn’t get to the show until the next night, at about 11:30 in the evening.

By the first commercial break, I knew I was at least impressed enough to commit to the rest of the episode.

Midway through, I was already mentally re-arranging my Monday night viewing schedule to accommodate it.

By the end of the show, I was certain I had just seen what was probably the best pilot of the new television season.

Now, I am not one of those television viewers who gets invested in a show after only one episode.  The cancellation ax swings far too quickly and far too often.  I generally sit back and wait to see which new shows get a full-season pickup before I start allowing myself to commit to them.

I also don’t usually plead across the internet for others to start watching shows I personally like in an attempt to lengthen their life spans.  I don’t start write-in campaigns, and I am not foolish enough to believe that if a show I enjoy gets canned there’s anything I or anyone else can do to bring it back.  I simply wait for the DVD release and get on with my life.

But Lone Star premiered to not-so-hot numbers last Monday, and if it doesn’t pick up steam this week, it’s most likely done for.

And that would really be a shame.  Minus the supernatural elements, Lone Star has the potential to be the new LOST-esque “star” water cooler show on the air.

The show’s sole protagonist (as least so far) is Robert/Bob Allen (played by James Wolk), a young brilliant con-man living two carefully constructed lives: one of upstanding “Robert,” who gleefully mows his suburban lawn in the town of Midland, Texas and hosts backyard block parties with his hometown girlfriend, Lindsay (Eloise Mumford)… and the other of buttoned-up corporate “Bob,” suited young turk married to Cat Thatcher (Adrianne Palicki), sexy red-headed daughter of millionaire oilman Clint Thatcher (Jon Voight), who is quick to favor Bob over his own sons, calculating Tram (Mark Deklin) and under-achiever Drew (Bryce Johnson).  Clint sees Bob as a younger version of himself and makes it clear to his three children that Bob is on the fastest track to succeeding him.

Bob’s real father, lifelong grifter John Allen (David Keith), has been slowly priming and maneuvering Bob/Robert into the position of “favorite son” within the Thatcher clan with the intention of running off with Thatcher’s millions.  He himself is unaware of his son’s attachment to Lindsay back in Midland, home to father and son’s previous, smaller-scale fleecing of the Midland locals (including Lindsay’s yet-to-discover parents) out of their life savings and IRA’s, the knowledge of which continually tightens its grip around Bob’s conscience.

Progressively, Bob/Robert sees both of his “lives” as potential viable realities.  His love for Lindsay and their simple, domestic world where “the bad never gets in,” appeals to his heart.  Meanwhile, the business acumen he has accrued over his years hoodwinking investors has given him the confidence and ego to believe he could successfully become Thatcher’s heir apparent.  The two women in his life, fair-haired Lindsay and fiery arm-candy Cat, further accentuate the disparate yet equally appealing aspects of the two lives he has built for himself.

John is adamant that Bob reject the notion of putting down real roots anywhere, and stay committed to the Thatcher scheme currently in play.  His father reminds him, “I’m the only one who loves you for who you are, not for who you pretend to be.”

The pilot’s first scene is a flashback showing Bob as a terrified young boy making a fast escape with John from an angry, violent voice banging on the other side of a front door whom we are led to assume is a previous victim of John’s scams.

I single this scene out because though we never see this victim, and he is not mentioned again during the rest of the story’s “present day,” the fact that the writers went to the trouble to have John refer to him by his first name, “Tommy,” leads me to think we’d be wise to tuck away this scene for future story reference.

In fact, if you forget for a moment that Lone Star was sold to us as the story of an attractive but calculating con-man trying to keep his two worlds from colliding while dealing with the ever-growing need for something “real,” and take a few steps back (as I did when I gave the pilot a second viewing), you won’t wonder why you should check out a show that seems to be pivoting on a slim premise. As a friend of mine pointed out, “I had a hard time understanding the main character, or feeling sorry or pity for him. What’s the appeal?”

But based on the pilot, Lone Star is clearly far more ambitious than that, and I think if given the chance and a few more weeks on the air, we’re going to see it brazenly break free of its current singular anti-hero premise and explode into an all-out saga of family manipulations, class warfare, double-dealings, triple-crossings and superb, unforeseen plot twists we have not seen since the glory days of Dallas.

And without giving anything away for those already hooked, or those about to check out the pilot on Hulu or FOX before the next episode airs, I’m pretty sure John’s current scheme using his son to steal Thatcher’s millions involves more players than just Bob… and that we were prominently introduced to at least one of these additional players during the pilot.

I’m completely sold on James Wolk’s performance as a man torn between the desire for family love and the instinct to run from it.  The rest of the cast is equally appealing, most especially Keith and Voight as two father figures seemingly capable of ripping to shreds any offspring standing in the way of their obsessions (could the more-than-once-mentioned deceased “Uncle Roy” possibly even be a link between the two of them?)  The show looks sharp, the score enhances the drama, there’s really nothing the production is doing wrong.

I watch plenty of television, but rarely do I look forward to any show as much as I am looking forward to Lone Star this Monday night.

Check out the pilot for Fox’s Lone Star via Hulu here

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