Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bonus - Lone Star: Pilot (1.1)

Complex, sometimes plain unlikable protagonists have been a mainstay for cable television throughout the last decade or so, but it's still fairly new ground for the big-four networks. And when a network series does have an unlikable protagonist, they're usually of the black-humored, curmudgeonly kind, like the star of the very show that precedes Lone Star every Monday night: House. At the center of Lone Star is a man who we shouldn't really like. He's a con-man, somebody who is simultaneously betraying two women, somebody who has cheated probably hundreds of people out of money, land and power for almost all of his life. It's that complexity that, while hardly likable behavior, should at least create a dynamic protagonist for a new drama series.

What probably dents Lone Star the hardest is the fact that Robert Allen, played with impressive charisma by newcomer James Wolk, isn't even likable by proxy of being kind of a douche, like a Don Draper or a Christian Troy. It's the show's major problem that he isn't particularly interesting just yet, and some of the attempts to humanize him come across ham-fisted.

Now, this isn't to say that Lone Star is a bad show. It's actually not at all. Outside of the "blah" lead, the show is visually stunning. Marc Webb's direction is fluid and frequently gorgeous. The silent shots of multiple other scenes playing over a, for want of a better word, 'anchor' scene with characters interacting (like Robert's interaction with the woman at the hotel) are beautiful in their simplicity, while the show perfectly captures the drastic contrast between the 'rich' and 'poor' lives Robert leads via his two identities. The visual motif of the gorilla key chain, too, is intriguing.

The series also has a great theme at its heart, that of a man living two lives but with both being fulfilling in some way. Meanwhile, we have characters trying to unknowingly expose that duplicity, and characters who almost threaten to destroy it out of their own bitterness. Also impressive is the obvious attempts the show-runners are making at trying to cross the money/oil/land-driven soapy drama of Dallas with the character-driven and near-poetic beauty of something like Mad Men. It's a night-time soap opera with a brain.

But what brings the pilot down is in its characterization of Robert. He's not dark enough to convince as a truly ruthless con man, and the pilot doesn't even hint at the kind of mind that would really screw innocent people out of so much money. At the same time, his decent qualities are undermined by some of the more contrived writing: the scene in the convenience store was especially jarring in its transparency.

But, since this is the pilot, it’s easy to let these criticisms go. For one, Lone Star has ambition, and it's great to see a character-driven drama series free of a case-of-the-week structure. And it's not some Defenders-1-8-7-Five-0 shit show, either. With the disastrous ratings it got last night, I can't see Fox sticking with Lone Star for long, but I at least admire its decision to pick it up and give it a shot in the current climate of relentlessly stale network television. Rating B

Guest stars Jose Pablo Cantillo (Matt); Nazneen Contractor (Sarah); Beth Broderick (Carol Holloway); Brandon Smith (Ed Holloway)
Writer Kyle Killen Director Marc Webb

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