Just imagine the pitch that Lone Star's producers must have made when they first started shopping the show. "It's about this guy who lies to everyone, steals their money, and finds true love with two different women in order to destroy their families financially."
The network's response: "Interesting. So who is the good guy?"
It's not an easy task they have ahead of them, getting usa network TV audience used to good guys in white and bad guys in blackto root for a man like Bob/Robert Allen.
But James Wolk (Bob/Robert) sure makes it easy, doesn't he? Bob's goofy smile, honest eyes, and just enough Clooney-isms instantly draw us in, even while he's tricking real people out of real cash and sleeping with two women who are none the wiser.
Last night's premiere episode was an impressive achievement and one of the best network pilots in recent memory. The challenge for Lone Star will be to keep this up for an entire season. How long can Bob maintain his deception? Who will be the first to discover he's not who he says he is? Will his "house of cards" crumble when the first lie is revealed?
As it stands, Lone Star could be an excellent miniseries. The problem is that it isn't one.
"Each [of Bob's relationships] has to have problems that don't relate to the deception," producer Amy Lippman told TV.com last week. "What goes on between the two [relationships] or the two father figures isn't related to the deception."
That is certainly true when it comes to giving the giving the series a sense of longevity (this is a business, remember), but isn't the fact that Bob is walking a tight-rope with his deception what made the pilot so compelling? The next few episodes (which I haven't seen) will be critical for Lone Star if the series is going to naturally expand beyond the simple premise of show about a man and his con gameand that is something it has to do if it wants to survive on network television. If Lone Star was on FX or Showtime, there wouldn't be a problem, because the cable standard of thirteen episodes allows for a tighter story, but when you scale up to 22 broadcast episodes, there's a lot more time to fill.
All told, the pilot was excellent. Wolk leads a strong cast, the shots are meticulous, and the dramatic conflict is thicker than the Texas Tea Bob dangles in front of his marks. But when the show inevitably turns to side stories that deviate from this strong con-game backbone, will we still be lured in?
Or is the con on us?
A few more notes:
... I can't say enough how perfect Wolk is for the role. Producers made a fantastic choice by going with a newcomer, and Wolk was a Godsend.
... What an amazing use of music, headlined by Mumford & Sons and The Antlers! I'm a sucker for the music montage, and Lone Star's are superb. Particularly the opening and closing installments.
... The unsung star of the show is Bob's leather suitcase. Not only is it a brilliant metaphor for its owner, but it's oh-so stylin'! Fox, where can I pick up one of those for myself?
... The drama had that "real" quality to it and reminded me a lot of another Texas-based drama, Friday Night Lights. Speaking of FNL, it's great to see the underrated Adrianne Palicki (Bob's wife, Cat) land a great role on another great show.
Homework question: Did the producers and James Wolk's performance succeed in getting you to root for the "bad guy"?
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom