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Con Men and Tricksters: Thoughts on FOX's Lone Star and NBC's The Event

In a television series where so many ideas seem to be inferior iterations on programs we've already seen, it's refreshing to come across a series that attempts to do something original.

FOX's con man drama Lone Star, which launches tonight, is just that series. While I don't think the Kyle Killen-series is perfect--there are quite a few flaws that jump out during the pilot episode--it has the potential to develop into something intriguing. That is, if viewers give it a chance.

The series revolves around Bob Allen (James Wolk), a roguish con man who has ingratiated his way into two women's hearts. There's the mark: Cat (Friday Night Lights' Adrianne Palicki), the wealthy daughter of an oil tycoon (Jon Voight), who Bob used to infiltrate the company. And then in the small Texas town of Midland, there's Lindsey (Eloise Mumford), his earnest girlfriend for whom he enjoys mowing the lawn. (No, that's not a euphemism.)

But Bob has broken the cardinal rule for con men: he's fallen for his own lies. His relationships with Cat and Lindsey are based on genuine emotion and he discovers--much to the anger of his grifter father John (David Keith)--that he can't walk away from either of them when the critical time arrives.

What follows is a unique mash-up of Dallas and Big Love, albeit without the religious discussions of the Principle of plurality, a drama that questions whether our hearts can hold love for more than one person and whether it's our actions or our emotions that determine just who we are.

Despite the rave reviews that Wolk seems to be receiving, my main issue with Lone Star is the casting of Wolk as it's difficult to buy him as Bob/Robert, a dual role requiring him to tap into something innately charismatic and wholly charming, something he lacks the full maturity to pull off. It's not so much his baby face that's distracting here; it's the fact that Bob and Robert don't seem all that different other than the uniforms of their station and Wolk lacks enough of a magnetic lure to make me forget this fact.

There's also some groaners amid the somewhat stilted dialogue. I'm hoping that subsequent episodes offer a more naturalistic ear as several lines seemed designed to offer as much exposition as humanly possible. While that's often the downfall of several pilot episodes, it's also something that can hopefully be corrected in the future. Given the ambitious scope of its plot, the dialogue and chemistry between the actors needs to be top notch if the network can pull it off in the long-term.

However, I'm intrigued enough to at least check out a second episode of Lone Star and seeing the executive producers--Party of Five's Amy Lippman and Chris Keyser, here serving as showrunners--did at least assuage some of my concerns about the long-term viability of this project. Additionally, the producers have lined up some fantastic recurring stars for the first season, including Andie MacDowell, Chad Faust, and Rosa Blasi.

At its heart, there's a compelling and unusual premise for an ongoing serialized drama, one that I sparked to when I read the pilot script back in the spring. I'm hoping that the producers can deliver on the promise of my initial reaction and transform Lone Star into a quirky and offbeat soap.

Faced with the choice of what to watch at 9 pm on Mondays, I'd certainly rather choose Lone Star over NBC's offering, The Event, yet another attempt to cash in on the success that was Lost without understanding just what made Lost work, particularly in the early days.

The short answer to that: characters. While Lost's pilot episode may have offered monstrous noises in the jungle, polar bears, and mysterious French messages emanating from a radio tower, it also revolved deeply around the plight of the passengers of Oceanic Flight 815, three-dimensional and nuanced characters. While these assembled passengers may have been strangers--both to each other and to us--the question of how they would survive the days to come gave the pilot a jolt of energy and a real emotional resonance.

Not so with The Event, an expensively produced but brain-dead production whose idea of challenging drama is to present events jumbled up in a non-linear fashion. Once untangled, nothing has much weight nor much excitement. The attempt to create momentum out of such chaotic structuring falls flat on its face because the characters are so entirely paper-thin. They're not even ciphers per se, but rather lifeless mannequins enacting a tedious play where the rules--and the overall premise--are shrouded in so much "mystery" that characters continually speak in half-whispers about events and ideas that the audience is kept in the dark about.

The promotional campaign tries to play up this aura of dread and uncertainty, offering storylines that "are not the Event." The pilot itself juggles a series of plots--a presidential assassination, a plane hijacking, the disappearance of a twenty-something--that are at first seemingly unrelated but which--quelle surprise!--are revealed to be in some way interconnected.

As for what that is, it's not revealed in the pilot episode, which is essentially forty-plus minutes of lead up to a major reveal at the end of the pilot that more or less reveals the true genre of the show you've been watching. But in structuring the episode in just that way, the producers have burned a lot of good will. If you can't win people over with a hugely expensive high-concept pilot, what chances are there of them coming back the following week to learn the truth about what they've just been watching?

The Event's producers claim that they've learned from the mistakes of Lost and will offer answers throughout the season to the show's central mysteries... which is more or less what the producers of ABC's failed FlashForward last season said as well. What both fail to realize is that it wasn't just the questions and answers that kept Lost's devoted viewers coming back for more. And if The Event has any hope of remaining on the air, it had better put the focus less on tricking the audience with slight of hand and deft illusion and more with some relatable and realistic characters.

I, on the other hand, won't be sticking around to find out.

Lone Star premieres tonight at 9 pm ET/PT on FOX. The Event premieres in the same time slot on NBC.

Comments

JRopiequet said…
Nick Wauters recently said that "The Event" is going to be all about the characters and that unfortunately he wasn't able to portray that through this pilot. You might want to consider at least giving it one more episode?
bierce said…
It took a strong will to stick with the jumbled mess that was The Event until the end of the hour. The producers apparently believe that confusion equals mystery. Hurtling us back and forth in time with characters we have barely had a chance to meet was a huge mistake. So far, we have seen a few widely scattered minutes of a week in which, apparently, a lot of stuff happened. In subsequent weeks will we gradually see more disconnected fragments of what happened on the days between all those leaps back and forth? All I can say is, if the editing in the second episode is anything like the first, I will not bother with future episodes. Like FlashForward, I may be somewhat curious about what is going on, but not enough to continue watching an ineptly made show. It may be too late for the creators of this series, but they desperately need to learn the art of storytelling, and fast!
Lostfan in NJ said…
I tend to cut more slack on a pilot, hoping that as the plot develops, I will be more drawn into the characters...

The problem I have with The Event, albeit superficial, is the network is trying too hard to create a "LOST" phenomenon, when something like that just has to organically occur... A "LOST" replacement just has to be found on its own. It was all a bit presumptuous. Especially telling viewers about finding additional content and producer commentary following the airing of the pilot.

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