You can’t set a primetime soap in Texas and not expect that it’s going to be compared to perhaps the greatest nighttime sudser of all time, DALLAS. So how does LONE STAR, the newbie premiering tonight at 9PM on FOX (Global TV in Canada) stack up? Well, that all depends on whether you’re looking at the long-running drama’s pilot… or what it eventually evolved into.
Like its predecessor, LONE STAR focuses on a hero and a villain. But while DALLAS had oily JR and his too-good-to-be-true brother, Bobby, LONE STAR has… Bob. See, Bob Allen (played to perfection by James Wolk) is living a double life. On one side of Texas, he’s a grifter who’s basically ripping off his friends and neighbors. On the other… he’s a quick-rising exec being mentored by tough-talkin’ tycoon Clint Thatcher. In both lives, Bob’s got a lady. Trouble is, he loves ’em both.
It’s hard not to look at Jon Voight’s Clint and not think of DALLAS’ similarly tough-talkin’ patriarch, Jock Ewing. Bob’s dad is longtime con man John, played by David Keith. And when Dad finds out that his son wants to go legit courtesy of his position in Thatcher’s company, well, you’ll be hard-pressed not to flash back to Digger Barnes warning daughter Pamela against trying to fit in with the Ewing clan.
The success or failure of LONE STAR rides almost entirely on how much you like Bob… and the good news is that Wolk is a powerful presence who manages to leave you rooting for him to somehow come out of this mess in tact. If there’s a flaw here, it’s that until the second half of tonight’s pilot, things are a little too dry… and everyone knows that’s the last thing you want from a good, frothy soap. It feels as if the folks at Fox want to have their cake (in the form of a soap) and convince non-serial lovers to take a bite, too.
But here’s the thing: That’s not so different from the original game plan of DALLAS. While the latter years became more about glitz, glamour and romantic intrigue, the first year or two, the infamous serial split it’s time between the bedrooms at Southfork ranch and the boardrooms at Ewing Oil. Long before becoming the most hated man in America, JR was just a guy desperate to win his daddy’s approval. His wife, Sue Ellen, was torn between her love/hate relationship with JR and her feelings for his nemesis, perpetual loser (in everything), Cliff. In LONE STAR, Bob plays both JR and Sue Ellen. He wants his father’s approval, but he also wants love.
Stick with the first 20 or 30 minutes and by the end, you’ll be hooked. Wolk is a wildly appealing presence who anchors the best new drama of the season. With our hero juggling two loves, jobs and lives, the stage is set for complications galore and, of course, the seemingly inevitable moment (season-ending cliffhanger, anyone?) when his worlds collide. As premises go, that’s a doozy… and a scenario we intend to follow every step of the way.
LONE STAR premieres on Monday September 20 at 9PM on FOX (Global TV in Canada)