There are plenty of protagonists with secret lives on TV these days, but eventually the jig is up. Betty Draper knows about Dick Whitman. Nurse Jackie's husband and Walter White's wife have found out about their spouses' dealings with drugs. So how long will we have to wait before the double life of Robert/Bob Allen, the con man at the center of Fox's new family drama Lone Star, is discovered?
It's no spoiler to say that by the end of the first episode, several characters are already suspicious of Robert/Bob's comings and goings.
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"If we're lucky enough to be back next year, something will have to be significantly changed," says Amy Lippman (Party of Five), one of the show's executive producers. "We've looked at shows that start with a very strong premise, like Breaking Bad, and by Season 2, they've turned it in some way, to keep it going, keep it fresh, to not repeat the same dynamic over again."
Until then, Lone Star will tell the dual stories of Robert/Bob Allen (newcomer James Wolk). Robert lives in Midland, Texas, with his sweet, trusting girlfriend Lindsay (Eloise Mumford); just 400 miles away in Houston, Bob is married to Cat (Friday Night Lights' Adrianne Palicki). Robert/Bob has two foreboding paternal figures: his own con-man father, Robert (David Keith), and Clint Thatcher (Oscar winner Jon Voight), Cat's oil magnate dad.
Though Fox has taken to comparing the show to Dallas, it's actually a much quieter narrative. As directed by Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer), the pilot is a restrained balance of striking imagery of the Texan flats, contemporary music and simple character portraits — hardly terms you'd use to describe that show about J.R. Ewing & Co. "We wanted it to be as grounded and real as possible," creator and executive producer Kyle Killen said.
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"I pitched it as 'Dallas without cheese,'" Killen adds. "I'd like to think we'll be able to go a couple of seasons before we have to resort to catfights."
That said, the first hour still establishes its share of conflicts fraught with potential malice. "We have a broad soap canvas, two whole families that we have to deal with," executive producer Chris Keyser says. "The pilot deconstructed those triangles in a very clever way, two sons that Thatcher has to deal with, two wives, two fathers."
Keyser points out that the 25-year-old Wolk's casting in the role was fortuitious for them, as the character was originally written to be significantly older. "It's going to be much easier for us to deal with the central problem of the show: how to make a man, who does somewhat despicable things, likable," he says. "When [Bob] says, "I love these two women and I'm going to change," and [he hasn't] played this con two or three times before, you might say, 'All right, I'm going to give him a shot.'"
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Wolk's TV wives agree. "When he's present with us, he's so present," Palicki says. "There's no reason why either of us would assume he has this other life."
"I think we've all had a situation where we've overlooked something a lover has done to us in the hopes that it could turn out right, where we could find love," Mumford adds. "And that's a very human feeling to have."
Killen acknowledges that keeping Robert/Bob both charming and criminal will be difficult. "I have no idea if this is a good idea for a network show, but [Fox is] willing to find out with the boldest, craziest version of it," he says. "If it's a failure, it's going to be a spectacular failure."
Lone Star premieres on Monday, Sept. 20 at 9/8c on Fox after House.