In Fox's 'Lone Star,' A Con Man Charms His Way Across Texas Fox's new drama, 'Lone Star,' introduces a Texas con man, his wife, his girlfriend, and his complicated scheme to defraud a lot of people at the same time. It's the best major-network show of the fall.

In Fox's 'Lone Star,' A Con Man Charms His Way Across Texas

Mark Deklin, Adrienne Palicki, and James Wolk share a tense drink in the premiere episode of Fox's Lone Star. Bill Matlock/Fox hide caption

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Bill Matlock/Fox

Everything about Bob Allen is too easy. Even that name. "Bob Allen"? It asks not to be noticed in a way that's almost ... conspicuous.

Bob is the character at the center of Fox's strong new drama Lone Star, and having watched the pilot three times, I can't quite decide how I feel about him. On the one hand, Bob is a con man, scamming a large oil company and the family who owns it, along with a lot of innocent small-time investors. And that's not to even mention the women in his life.

But on the other hand, he seems to want out, sort of, and he seems to really love those women. Both of them. They're played by Eloise Mumford and Adrienne Palicki (the Friday Night Lights alumna, who talks to David Greene about her new gig today on All Things Considered), and both of them have their charms. Part of Bob loves the girlfriend. Part of Bob loves the wife.

The key to this delicate balance is the performance from James Wolk, a great-looking 25-year-old you probably haven't seen before, unless you watched a Hallmark Hall Of Fame TV movie called Front Of The Class, where he played a teacher with Tourette syndrome. It would be tough to overstate just how good Wolk is here: He conveys Bob's flashes of panic and conflict so that a viewer can see them, but his targets credibly might not.

Too often in fiction, con men are outsize characters. They're all razzmatazz and tap-dance -- the flashy car, the quick, jargon-filled yammering, and the constant putting on of a really big show. Real con men, real dangerous people, aren't necessarily like that. They don't stand out, they seem straightforward, and they don't seem particularly like TV characters. That's what you get from Bob Allen, and from the stillness that Wolk brings to this portrayal. Bob is the nicest, most down-to-earth guy in the world, unless you know he's got his hand in your pocket and most of what he's telling you isn't true. And, oddly, maybe even then.

Another note: Every season, there's a TV show that seems to have an innate ability to find the right music, and this season, it's this one. Lone Star makes heavy use in the pilot of a variety of songs from the band Mumford And Sons, and the mood is absolutely perfect. I don't know whether the plan going forward is to use this particular band in the future, or to use other bands in other episodes in a similar way -- sort of a "house band" for each episode -- but it's very effective in the pilot.

What you want in a genuinely complex story is to feel yourself recoil from Bob and root for him at the same time; that's what Mad Men has accomplished with Don Draper, who has a great deal in common with Bob, and it's been accomplished here, too. In one scene in which Bob manages a nervous investor, he makes what appears to be a massive gamble, and it's impossible not to admire the pure, wire-walking guts it takes for him to do it. On the other hand ... well, on the other hand, there's the massive dishonesty that is his entire life.

There are a few early missteps, to be sure. The character of Bob's father, played by David Keith, lacks Bob's subtlety, and some of the speeches that have been written for him are a bit too on-the-nose. ("You're a con man, son.") Similarly, there are moments that seem to be intended for trailers and promos and lack the nuance of the rest of the script, including a phone call between Bob and his dad at the end of the hour that undoubtedly would have been written differently if somebody hadn't envisioned it as the scene that would sell the show.

Overall, though, it's got a strong cast (also including Jon Voigt) and the show is off to a great start. Like most worthwhile endeavors, it's ambitious and it'll be hard to pull off in some ways -- how long can Bob's massive deceptions credibly continue? -- but the pilot is a well-written, well-shot, exceptionally well-acted hour of television.