Lone Star -- TV Review

"Lone Star"
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The writer-producer duo of Amy Lippman and Christopher Keyser have a knack for turning unknown actors into stars, as they've demonstrated with Matthew Fox ("Party of Five") and Jennifer Garner ("Significant Others"). They'll likely add to that list James Wolk, the standout lead of their promising new Fox series "Lone Star."

In less capable hands, the series' premise would be preposterous: a troubled con man who's only fooling himself if he thinks can stay with two different women, both of whom he loves. And yet Wolk pulls off a tricky role with the help of some strong writing, providing some emotional grounding for this enigmatic character.

To his girlfriend, Lindsay (Eloise Mumford), in Midland, Texas, he's Robert Allen, a traveling salesman passing on bogus investment opportunities to her parents. She doesn't know about his double life in Houston, where he's known as Bob to his wife, Cat (Adrianne Palicki). Her oil baron father (Jon Voight) has just tapped Bob for a top post at his company, where he's set to pull off a con worth millions.

And neither woman knows his father, John Allen (David Keith), who's been grooming his son since childhood for the life of a grifter. But Robert/Bob is starting to crack up under John's influence, as evidenced by his desire to stay with both women and turn his Houston job into a legit gig.

Robert/Bob is a damaged soul, which makes him a sympathetic character even as he deceives those he professes to love. He's an antihero of sorts who we'll root for as he moves from ruse to ruse, even as he we hope for his ultimate redemption.

Wolk plays this all with an earthy charm that makes a viewer believe his conning skills. He offers an endless series of eye twinkles and dimpled smiles that look great on Fox marketing materials, too.

What also works for "Star" is the way it blends the gloss of a primetime soap with the grit of down-to-earth drama. The protagonist shuttles back and forth between different lives that feel like the abandoned sets of two other Texas-set series, "Dallas" and "Friday Night Lights," and there's nothing jarring about the contrast.

The pilot was directed by "500 Days of Summer" helmer Marc Webb, but don't look here for any of the creative flourishes he brought to the filmmaking there. "Star" is traditional TV but still earns points for not being yet another procedural set in a precinct, courthouse or hospital; the oil fields where some of the stories take place feel like fresh air in more ways than one.
But there's a reason serialized story lines are a minority on the air. A drama of that type has to be truly distinctive to earn repeat viewing, and "Star" just might be original enough to clear that high bar.

Airdate: 9-10 p.m. Monday, Sept. 20 (Fox)
Production: 20th Century Fox Television, Depth of Field Prods., Keyser/Lippman Prods.
Cast: James Wolk, Adrianne Palicki, Eloise Mumford, David Keith, Mark Deklin, Bryce Johnson, Jon Voight
Executive producers: Christopher Keyser, Amy Lippman, Kyle Killen, Kerry Kohansky, Paul Weitz, Peter Horton
Creator: Kyle Killen
Writer: Kyle Killen
Director: Marc Webb
Producer: J.B. Moranville
Consulting Producers: Chris Weitz, Andrew Miano
Associate Producer: Valerie Joseph
Director of Photography: Eric Steelberg
Production Designer: Laura Fox
Editor: Philip Neel
Music: Danny Lux
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