Meet Bob. Bob has the perfect life: a beautiful girlfriend, a small, down-to-earth Texas community, and a promising new mining venture that his friends and neighbors can’t wait to buy into.
Now meet Bob again. Bob has another perfect life: a beautiful and wealthy wife, a huge house in Houston, and a job offer from his father-in-law Clint to come work for his thriving oil concern.
Now meet Bob for real. Bob is a con man – has been practically since birth, and his father John has raised him to be the best grifter he’s ever seen. He has two gorgeous women in two different communities in love with him, and stands at the precipice of a huge score.
But Bob doesn’t want that. He wants a real life, and would gladly take either of these if he could ever choose between the two.
“I’ll get you the money,” he begs his father. “Just don’t make me do this anymore.”
Well-played by newcomer James Wolk, Bob is at the center of the best pilot episode of the network TV season: “Lone Star” (Monday at 9 p.m. on FOX). The show has a strong cast around Wolk, including Eloise Mumford (as the girlfriend), Adrianne Palicki from “Friday Night Lights” (as the wife), Jon Voight (as the father-in-law) and David Keith (as the dad). The pilot has a strong command of place (like “FNL,” it’s filmed on location in Texas) and style (the soundtrack is liberally sprinkled with songs from the English folk band Mumford & Sons). And the combination of TV newcomer Kyle Killen as creator and long-absent veterans Chris Keyser and Amy Lippman (who last had a show 10 years ago with “Party of Five”) as producers leads to a show that neatly straddles the line between the 21st century “Dallas” the network no doubt wanted and the cable shows like “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” that Killen described as influences.
It is a very, very, very strong pilot.
But is there a series here?
When Bob starts telling his dad about his desire to make things real, John warns him, “This is a house of cards, okay? You don’t get to live in it.” And I fear that John is speaking as much to his show’s writers as to his son there – that good as “Lone Star” looks at first, there’s no way it holds up over the course of a 13-episode season, let alone the 5+ seasons that successful American shows are expected to run. There are so many lies in so many places, so many people on the verge of finding out and/or being hurt, that it feels like “Lone Star” might become very frustrating and repetitive by episode 3 or 4. I would watch a movie version of “Lone Star,” and I will stick with the series hoping it proves me wrong, but it doesn’t feel like this premise has legs.
At the TV critics press tour last month, Killen and the other producers were peppered with questions on that very subject, and they had some interesting thoughts on how the series might work long-term (a mix of short and long cons, for starters, as Bob tries to get out from under this mess while hurting as few people as possible), so we’ll see. And I have to respect Killen’s ambition and his candor.
“I have no idea if this was a good idea for a network show,” he admitted when talking about his conversations with FOX execs, “but I feel like they”re willing to find out with the boldest, craziest version of it. If it”s a failure, I think it”s going to be a spectacular failure, and I like that idea. And ultimately, I think that”s why we are where we want to be.”
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org