Pilot Review: Lone Star

Bob is a second generation con artist, his dad brought him up that way and he’s very good at it. Currently he’s running a pyramid scheme and a long con on a big oil family. The problem is that he wants to go legitimate. The bigger problem is that he wants to keep both lives. And his wife. And his girlfriend.

This is a very well put together pilot. It’s a pretty complicated plot with a lot of characters, several putting on different faces to different people. But the writers actually pull it off with a lot of style and charm. It didn’t feel rushed, but at the same time there weren’t glaringly obvious “don’t worry about this, we’ll explain it in a few episodes time” moments. It was extremely elegantly written, showing skill and talent that is generally lacking from a lot of pilots on the circuit.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that I’m not sure all the elegant writing in the world can save this show from the extremely troubling concept at its heart. Bob is extremely likeable, but it’s pointed out very early on that as a con-man that’s his job, he gets people to trust him so that he can deceive them and profit from them. There are plenty of shows past and present starring con-men, but they’re generally lovable rogues pulling Robin Hood scams. While there’s unlikely to be a lot of sympathy for a Texan oil tycoon being ripped off, the fact that Bob does so by ingratiating himself with the family to such an extent that he’s married the daughter is utterly distasteful. Even worse the other scam is taking money from people who cannot really afford to lose it, and again he’s been manipulating the affections of a woman to win the trust of her family and neighbours.

The character is like a child. The implication is that he’s been a conman because his dad made him do it. At 25 or so he’s finally grown a pair, stood up to his father and ‘resigned’ from the life. But he doesn’t want to give anything up, he wants to keep playing with all his toys. He’s not had a great epiphany and realised that what he’s doing is wrong, he’s just realised that he wants the women more than he wants the cash. His change of attitude may on the surface seem altruistic, but at the end of the day, he’s still lying and manipulating so that he can have what he wants.

Maybe if this show were on HBO, more gritty and dramatic I’d be more inclined to watch it. But the more I thought about it, the more uncomfortable I became with this story presented as entertainment. Bob isn’t a hero, he’s a selfish child who wants everything and hasn’t grown up enough to think through how it will end. There really are only two ways this can go – no one finds out, he lives his two lives and two perfectly sweet women are lied to by the one they trust the most; or they find out and everyone loses. I just don’t think I can bring myself to watch a show that’s presented as a sort of lavish soap opera with bright shiny colours and yet is so utterly devoid of hope.

Reviews:
TV Squad “There’s no doubt that the pilot for ‘Lone Star,’ the story of a young con man in Texas in love with two women, is a strong and well-crafted hour. But ‘Lone Star’s’ first instalment inevitably invites questions: Should it have been the first half of a two-hour movie? Can the stories at its core sustain a full season of television?”

CliqueClack “Most stories, at least most good stories, have a hero and a villain. In the case of Lone Star, there are no heroes, several villains, and a whole mess of victims. The show is going to have to overcome the fact that there is no one to root for, as the main character is one I seriously doubt audiences will connect with.”

Links: Official site, imdb, tv.com, wikipedia

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The upfronts: Fox

What’s Out
The big news is that 24 will not be returning. I’ve never been a fan of the show, I watched the first few episodes and got frustrated by the ridiculousness. Apparently they’re moving the franchise onto the big screen, but I don’t know whether they’re going to rename it “120minutes” or change the format, either way it seems like a bit of a fudge.

The only one of the cancellations that I actually watched was Dollhouse, which even I’ll admit got a pretty good run all things considered. Brothers, Past Life and Sons of Tucson were all cancelled before reaching their 2nd season and the more established Til Death also lived up to its name.

What’s Back
The fact that Glee started AND ended the year as one of the most talked about shows on television made its pick up pretty obvious, the fact that a show about high school kids singing musical hits is going to be given the prestigious post-Superbowl spot next year is a bit more surprising.

The only other freshman show to survive was Human Target, which was pretty terrible but mindless enough to pass the time. Bubble shows Fringe and Lie to Me will both return for a third season which I’m pleasantly surprised by. The animations all return – American Dad, The Cleveland Show, Family Guy and The Simpsons and the ratings juggernauts of Bones and House return for seasons 6 and 7 respectively.

What’s New

  • Bob’s Burgers – Another animation. I don’t really like any of Fox’s animations, so can’t really comment.
  • The Good Guys – This one actually gets a preview this week in the US and the critics are already in love. The lure of Bradley Whitford and Colin Hanks is pretty strong and if you can get past the terrible moustache, it sounds like a really fun old school miss-matched buddy cup show.
  • Lone Star – Interesting looking drama centred around a conman trying to get out of the business, but unable to chose between his ‘real’ life and the one he’s constructed to swindle a big Texas oil family.
  • Mixed Signals – Bromance comedy, three blokes dealing with the trials and tribulations of life and love, guess it makes a change from the endless female equivalents. The trailer wasn’t horrible, I even smiled a couple of times, but it’s far from riotously hilarious.
  • Raising Hope – Following from the success of this year’s whacky family comedies The Middle and Modern Family, this is another one. I wanted to hate it, but actually the trailer didn’t look entirely awful and this might actually end up being quite sweet and entertaining.
  • Ride-Along – Another drama about corruption in the police force from Shawn Ryan (The Shield), although I suspect it won’t be quite as… gritty as The Shield. The trailer is ok, but nothing really jumped out at me as being outstanding.
  • Running Wilde – Awful looking comedy about a Beverley Hills snob who falls for a bleeding heart anthropologist. The trailer is one of the least funny 3 minutes of ‘comedy’ I’ve experienced in a long time.
  • Terra Nova – This sounds pretty exciting. Steven Spielberg and Brannon Braga (Star Trek) bring us a big action sci-fi series about a family sent back 85 million years to save humanity. Sounds like a cross between Primeval and Lost in Space.

Fox’s website, TV Squad summary and pilot reviews, The Futon Critic