Saturday, September 25, 2010

NBC Sitcom Roundup — "Nepotism," "The Fabian Strategy," & "Anthropology 101"

Since it's the only multi-show block of television I watch I've decided to start doing weekly reviews of NBC's Thursday night comedy lineup, namely The Office, 30 Rock, and Community. "Reviews" isn't even the right word; I'm not going to waste time with extensive plot summary or tiptoe around spoilers or in any way write for the benefit of people who haven't seen the episodes — there's dozens of TV blogs that take care of that, even a couple good ones — but I'm just gonna jot down some quick impressions of each show on Friday or Saturday once I've caught up on Hulu, even if they're as short as a couple of sentences. This week's thoughts will be a little longer, though, since I wanna discuss each show in general first.

The Office, Season 7 Episode 1 — "Nepotism"

I'm not exactly taking a bold stance when I say that The Office is years past its prime (in fact, if anything, this view is so widespread that my actual bold stance is that I currently enjoy The Office more than 30 Rock). No surprise — seven years is ancient by TV standards. The well of ideas runs dry, characters get stretched into increasingly cartoonish versions of what they once were (see Ryan, Kevin, Meredith, Creed, and even the relatively new Erin), episodes like this one open with admittedly charming but very broad dance numbers that never, ever would have happened back in season two. With Jim and Pam married with a baby and Dunder Mifflin's financial collapse averted, I doubt many people would weep crocodile tears if the show brought itself to a (still late, but relatively) graceful end next May.

But The Office is one of NBC's biggest hits, and that ain't gonna happen. In fact, even Steve Carell's announcement that he will be leaving the show at the end of this season did nothing to deter the Peacock Network, who swiftly announced that there will be a new boss in season eight whether that means giving a current character a promotion or bringing in someone entirely new. The end of The Office as we know it is nigh, and this season carries a lingering dread, but, I confess, a vague sense of excitement. What will the post-Carell Office entail? Fresh blood and renewed sense of purpose? Or a ghastly, shambling corpse of a once-great sitcom embarrassing itself beyond measure? Probably closer to the latter, but either way, it'll be something fascinating. Save for HBO's Game of Thrones it might be the single television event of 2011 I'm most curious about.

But whatever they're planning for Michael Scott's departure, this episode makes no hint of it. Outside of a couple "what I did over the summer" confessionals at the beginning it doesn't even feel like a season premiere, plunging us straight back into business as usual without even the courtesy of mentioning last season's whistleblower subplot that took up most of the finale. It's not that I want Andy fired or anything, but he doesn't seem to have been punished in any way, retroactively giving the whole story a "what was the point of that?" vibe. Unless you count his karmic punishment of losing Erin to Gabe, which I doubt was related to the whistleblowing. Speaking of, doesn't it seem a little weird for the show to make its two newest characters a couple, the ones who could most use integration into the main cast? It's like they're sticking them out in no man's land.

The subplot with Michael's nephew was clever in theory and Luke was an amusingly well-sketched portrait of a little douche ("I love cinema. My favorite movies are Citizen Kane and The Boondock Saints."), but it never achieved the true potential of its akwardness until things took an impressively bizarre, uncomfortable turn with the spanking at the end. That I was a fan of, and much to my relief I finally had a big gut laugh a few minutes before the credits rolled. Pam's elevator prank against Dwight was gently amusing, including a moment that was funny but again shows how cartoonish the characters have become when Dwight starts pissing in the corner of elevator five seconds after they get stuck. At least the Devil wasn't in there with them.

All in all, a watchable but unremarkable season premiere, certainly not a speck on season three's sublime "Gay Witch Hunt" but not an embarrassment either. The Office's greatest strength at this point is probably its enormous cast — eighteen people listed as "Starring," as far as I know the biggest main cast of any show on TV right now, including hourlong cable dramas — and with the star leaving in about twenty short episodes and Jim and Pam's wistful love story resolved they gotta spend this season reaching into that bench and making some of their second-string into starters. In human years The Office is a senior citizen, and I just hope it can stay healthy for as long as possible before getting rolled permanently into the TV retirement home.

30 Rock, Season 5 Episode 1 — "The Fabian Strategy"

If you were unfamiliar with the show you would never guess from a cursory glance that 30 Rock is becoming a creaky thing. It's as peppy as ever, with cheerful music and snappy editing and impressive guest stars, including Elizabeth Banks and no less than Matt goddamn Damon in recurring roles this year. But, outside of Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy's initial antagonism gradually becoming a codependent friendship, a process which was complete by the end of season two, 30 Rock is a show that has resisted any evolution since settling on a tone in the first half of its first year. Yeah, Kenneth is working at CBS now, but I give that maybe two more episodes. Liz has a new man, but the downside of a character being played by one of the top movie stars in the world is that we know he can't be here to stay. Make no mistake, we'll be back at square one very soon.

And that's fine... as long as the jokes stay funny. With no additions to the main cast or character development beyond Liz and Jack becoming friends or shifts in setting or premise since the pilot four years ago, 30 Rock is in many respects actually coming to resemble Tina Fey's previous place of employment, Saturday Night Live. With each, the question of a new episode's quality comes down to one and one question only: were the jokes funny? And 81 episodes in, the answer with 30 Rock is "yes, but not nearly as funny as they used to be." I don't blame them. Anyone would get a little burned out writing a total of about eight new hours of wall-to-wall punchlines every year for half a decade.

In a strange, nearly unprecedented twist, the part of the premiere that actually made me laugh the most was Jenna's subplot, something I'm not sure has happened since season one's "Hardball." Seeing her usurp Pete's responsibilities as producer was a pleasure, bringing out entertaining new sides in both characters. I also liked Tracy and Kenneth's more absurd, hallucinatory subplot, although I hope I'm not speaking only for myself when I say that Tracy Jordan's crazy person gimmick has grown stale over time. Lots of sitcoms have characters who serve only as walking punchlines, but they're usually not third billed.

Jack didn't fare quite so well. Alec Baldwin can rasp all he wants but last season's seemingly endless Jack / Avery / Nancy love triangle really burned me out on the character's love life. Unless they bring in some more absurdist twists befitting the the rest of the show I just don't want to listen to Jack talk about him and Avery anymore until the birth, especially when they don't even pay Elizabeth Banks to show up. Let's move away from lovey dovey Jack back to the corporate shark, the one that we all, ironically, fell in love with.

Liz and Matt Damon's plot where Damon was revealed to be a crybaby wasn't quite as tedious but still did little to separate itself from Jon Hamm, Liz's last handsome and seemingly perfect boyfriend with a hidden character flaw. I'm a fan of Damon in Bourne and Good Will Hunting and The Informant! but he's doing little to distinguish himself in this part, even less than James Franco did as Liz's one-episode love interest last season. Truth be told, I miss Dennis Duffy. He may have been the worst of Liz's love interests for Liz in the world of the show, but he had the most personality of any of them by far.

I don't want to sound overly down on 30 Rock. I may gripe, but I'm still watching and still laughing here and there and it's still a country mile better than any of the new sitcoms that premiered this fall. But I am, sadly, well past the point of bona fide excitement over new episodes. In fact, I didn't even watch this one on Hulu until two days after it aired, something that never would have happened a couple years ago, and just a few hours after that while writing this post I had to skim the episode's summary on Wikipedia to remind myself exactly what happened. But that's okay, because there's a new sitcom in town that has casually swept aside 30 Rock to become the new king of madcap comedy, and that show is Community.

Community, Season 2 Episode 1 — "Anthropology 101"

I'mma be straight with you folks — I fucking love Community. A few months back I would have told you that it was the best comedy on television. Now that the great Party Down is deceased, I will tell you that it's the best comedy on television by far. You are absolutely missing out if you are not watching this show. It's terrific. The cast is electric, the tone and pacing maybe the best of any sitcom since Arrested, the dialogue tremendous, the jokes consistently laugh-out-loud hilarious, and the running, self-aware commentary on sitcom tropes even as it plays them up or parodies them is incredibly ambitious. If you haven't seen the first season don't bother with renting; hop your ass right on over to Amazon and buy that shit.

I don't want to gush and gush and gush. I have 21 more episodes to review (and, assuming being aired against CBS's groanworthy The Big Bang Theory doesn't kill the show, hopefully a third season after that), so gushing must be rationed, but I thought this was a really great premiere. The Jeff / Annie twist in last season's finale had me concerned that Community was going to be invaded by unwelcome soapy elements, but the way this episode blew all that to pieces was pretty goddamn brilliant, from the one of the funniest, most graphic kisses in sitcom history between Jeff and Britta to Annie's hilarious, shrieking, running-start punch to Jeff's face in the study hall (while Derrick Comedy cameoed in the background). Shitting all over the will-they-or-won't-they sitcom tradition by twisting Jeff and Britta's romance into a series of angry power plays makes countless televised romances now just look lazy and unimaginative in retrospect.

Much of the advertising for this premiere revolved around Betty White's guest spot, which again made me nervous, but once again, I should have had faith. As tired as I may have become with the Betty White meme her role as the gang's crazy, urine-drinking, potentially murderous anthropology professor worked. Most films and shows and sketches since White's recent career resurgence have cast her in same redundant "old lady saying inappropriate things, lol!" role, but Community took the unique approach of simply coming up with a funny character and casting a talented actress in the part. There's nothing about Professor June Bauer as written that couldn't have been played by a man in his forties, but White gave it a fresh vibe and fit seamlessly in the show's world.

I could go on and on about the episode's myriad brilliant touches, beginning a few seconds in when we see Troy getting out of bed in his Spider-Man pajamas (referencing actor Donald Glover's summer campaign to get an audition for Peter Parker) and lasting until a throwaway moment at the end where the gang agrees that Troy's oldwhitemansays Twitter feed would make a moronic TV show, a subtle yet viscously scathing takedown of CBS's $#*! My Dad Says seconds before its premiere, but why bother. If you watched the episode then you already know that Community fuckin' rules, and if you didn't, then you better catch up stat, because you're missing the best comedy on television.

Friday, September 24, 2010

TV Pilots, Day 2 — Detroit 1-8-7, Raising Hope, Running Wilde, Better With You, Undercovers

Tuesday and Wednesday's series premieres were a mixed bag, a disappointment for anyone looking for fresh, exciting appointment viewing to add to their regular schedule but with only one true disaster in the bunch (barring CBS shows, which I won't watch or review, but can all be safely assumed disasters). Lots of stuff in the B- and C+ range; the TV equivalent of McDonald's. It looks like this fall's new series may ultimately just be filler to bide time between new episodes of Boardwalk Empire and already-proven returning shows (and I would say Lone Star, but much as I predicted, Lone Star is proving too good for the diseased masses and will probably wind up having a mayfly-esque lifespan).

But let's not mourn the good TV that's probably going to get cancelled, let's look ahead to the mediocre TV of the future! Today we'll be examining ABC's Detroit 1-8-7, Fox's Raising Hope, Fox's Running Wilde, ABC's Better With You, and NBC's Undercovers:


The premise in ten words or less? Cops in Detroit solve murders.

Any good? Well, it's way better than NBC's Chase, I'll give it that much, but it's still just another police procedural. There's some cops, the men tough and the females attractive, with the protagonist being an arrogant, slightly off-kilter antihero cop who plays by his own rules. There's a murder, they parse the clues, get the lead, do the chase, make the arrest. Americans love episodic police procedurals because they're unambitious and easy to watch, and on that count Detroit 1-8-7 delivers. I'm sure lots of people will watch but I can't imagine anyone ever excitedly telling their friends about last night's amazing episode the next day.

What Detroit 1-8-7 admittedly does have is a strong sense of location. Other cop shows set in Manhattan or Miami or LA try to make their locations look sexy and vibrant, all epic skylines and gorgeous lights, but Detroit 1-8-7 proudly displays Detroit in all its grey, ghetto, semi-apocalyptic glory. Unlike The Wire they weren't courageous enough to actually have the cast reflect the city's demographics (real Detroit: 81.6% black, Detroit 1-8-7's main cast: 37.5% black), but there's still a genuine texture to it that most cop shows don't have. Shame the storytelling is so generic and uninteresting.

Will I watch again? I don't think so.


The premise in ten words or less? White trash twentysomething unexpectedly winds up a single parent.

Any good? It was neither great nor as bad as some critics made it out to be. It's quite cinematically shot for a televised comedy, with palpable grunge to the white trash settings, and there's a couple of pretty subversive, out-there moments for a broadcast sitcom that made me laugh out loud (namely a comedic cutaway to a woman being fried in the electric chair in front of her baby, and the same baby getting thrown up on later in the episode), but these moments are sandwiched between wide dry stretches and capped off by a generically sitcommy warm hugs ending. The show's most tired element is probably the Alzheimery grandma who lives with the main family, because old ladies saying inappropriate things (and, in this case, running around naked) is not nearly as funny as sitcom writers seem to believe it to be.

Will I watch again? I dunno. I'm not completely averse to the idea of watching a few more but at the same time I can't really imagine spending my twentieth episode with these people, let alone my hundredth. I can easily see this one taking the same path of Greg Garcia's previous, equally white trash series My Name Is Earl, one I enjoyed for the first half of its first season but quickly grew tired with and eventually just vaguely disgusted by the very continued existence of.


The premise in ten words or less? Vain rich man reunites with his do-gooder childhood sweetheart.

Any good? I think we (and by "we" I mean people with taste) can all safely agree that Arrested Development is the greatest TV comedy ever. Everything about creator Mitch Hurtwitz's magnus opus came together perfectly for its brief yet beautiful run; its style, its pacing, its blisteringly brilliant joke structure, and of course its cast, one of the best comedic ensembles ever assembled. The show was true lightning in a bottle. But you know the thing about lightning — it never strikes in the same place twice.

Mitch Hurwitz's new show Running Wilde is about a dumb, blustery rich man played by Will Arnett, born into money with zero clue and zero responsibility. Or in other words, Gob Bluth. He's not named Gob Bluth ("Steve Wilde," if you must know), but Gob is obviously who he is, giving the vaguely tragic impression of Hurwitz as a man still wearing his high school letter jacket seven years later, trying to remind everyone of the glory days. Keri Russell is about 35% Michael Bluth everyman and 65% Lindsay Bluth daft wannabe humanitarian as Steve's childhood sweetheart Emmy, the daughter of a former maid of Steve's father, who decides to move back in with Steve to try to make him a better man when her daughter Puddle (Stefania Owen, filling Ron Howard's Arrested Development role as narrator, not bad for a child actress but without any compelling hook as a character) expresses desire to live back in America.

The show has scattered laughs in its more absurdist moments but the dialogue scenes are pretty dry and it quickly becomes apparent that Arrested Development would not have stood as the masterpiece it was with Gob as the protagonist and a small handful of supporting characters. It's not bad but it's kind of heartbreakingly mediocre. I suggest that Running Wilde change its title to the more accurate A Portrait of Mitch Hurwitz As a One-Hit Wonder.

Will I watch again? Well, it's the closest we're gonna get to Arrested Development until they finally put that long-rumored feature film together, ain't it? I doubt Running Wilde will see a second season so I might as well see it through to the (possibly very) bitter end.


The premise in ten words or less? Two sisters, their boyfriends, their parents, and a laugh track.

Any good? Better With You is a notable entry in the television subgenre I affectionally refer to as "complete pieces of shit." A bland, sleepy regurgitation of Friends with a hint of How I Met Your Mother that feels a million years old by the end of its first scene, the show features three Manhattanite couples that have been together for lengths of time ranging from seven weeks to 35 years, and constantly presents us with the same scenario, but, get this, three times to show how couples change.

For example, we see the seven-weeks couple in a taxi cab, where they can't stop making out. We then see the nine-years couple in a taxi where they talk about their days. We then see the 35-years couple in a taxi where they, get this, sit in silence! Oh, ho ho! Later, we see the seven-weeks couple deciding to fool around because "it's been like six hours." We then see the nine-years couple deciding to fool around because "it's been like a week." We then see the 35-year couple sitting in silence. Hilarity! This is the main "joke" the show keeps repeating over and over, as the laugh track brays constantly like an ass in pain.

This show is the most generic, lowbrow, cookie cutter sitcom imaginable, lacking a single moment that attempts to genuinely stand out from the crowd or subvert expectations in any way, a show that has no business existing as we enter the second decade of the 21st century. You can almost see some ABC studio executive sneering with contempt, cackling "here, enjoy this multicamera piece of shit, you flyover fuckheads!" before squatting over and taking a wet dump in America's mouth.

Will I watch again?


The premise in ten words or less? Sexy spy couple goes on James Bondian secret missions.

Any good? Undercovers is a slick, sexy, cool little spy show about two insanely attractive people (seriously, female lead Gugu Mbatha-Raw is one of the most mind-bogglingly gorgeous people I've seen on TV in years, enough so that I actually need to take a moment here and emphasize that she is a Greek goddess come to life) who are married and go on secret missions together. The pilot is vibrantly directed by J.J. Abrams of Star Trek and Mission: Impossible III fame, opening with a sweet chase / shootout scene that wouldn't be out of place on the big screen and retaining a cinematic look the whole way through (or at least until a final car chase in a strangely Californian-looking "Russia"). The leads have peppy chemistry and the whole thing is a polished, glossy spy action package.

But I can't say I really want to watch it again, and I'll explain why: it's too cool. "Cool" to the point of having no personality. "Cool" to the point of smugness. The two leads have absolutely no character flaws whatsoever; they are the sexiest people in the world, the smartest people in the world, the best fighters in the world, possess every single talent and skill the plot can possibly ask of them, and never seem to struggle with anything, including catching a terrorist arms dealer in about two days that the CIA has been unsuccessfully tracking for five years when they finally get put on the case. If you compare it to NBC's other spy show Chuck, a show equally lighthearted but with a wry, knowing, self-depricating tone and a flawed protagonist in over his head in the spy game, the difference is clear. Chuck is for people who want to watch real characters, Undercovers is for people who just want a vague, detached sense of cool badassery.

Will I watch again? Not terribly likely. If I was the sort to channel surf I could imagine a worse way to kill an hour, but I really only have the inclination to keep up with one lighthearted action / comedy / romance spy series at a time, a role which Chuck will continue to fill exclusively.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

TV Pilots, Day 1 — Outlaw, Boardwalk Empire, Chase, The Event, Lone Star

I've been wanting to start doing more TV coverage on my blog, so I've decided to do something useful with my life waste time by watching this fall's series premieres and reporting back with some relatively brief thoughts on each. Note that I don't watch commercials out of principle, so that means that the shows I'll review are either 1) on HBO or other commercial-free premium networks, or more likely 2) on Hulu. And Hulu doesn't broadcast CBS shows, so I won't be reviewing all the shitty, lowbrow, soon-to-be-beloved-by-middle-America programs CBS is rolling out this week. So sad. How will I ever live with myself?

This review series will probably have three entires, and in the first we'll be looking at, in rough chronological order of premiere date, NBC's Outlaw, HBO's Boardwalk Empire, NBC's Chase, NBC's The Event, and Fox's Lone Star:


The premise in ten words or less? Rogue Supreme Court justice quits, becomes private defense attorney.

Any good? In the pilot's climax, a man who has been on death row for eleven years is brought in for a retrial in light of new evidence that Jimmy Smits and his team have uncovered, because of course, like every other lawyer show, Outlaw assumes that lawyers also do the jobs of detectives, spies, and policemen. In about five minutes presented in real time, the trial begins, a new witness goes up, gives her story, points out the real guilty party who is of course in the courtroom, and Smits and the prosecuting attorney start screaming at each other until a pair of glasses belonging to the actual killer is presented and proves everything, at which point the police arrest the killer right there in the courtroom and the defendant who has been jail for eleven years immediately walks out a free man. It would be the funniest scene of the year if the show were kidding, but no, it's dead fucking serious.

The dialogue is awful, painfully expository and horribly on-the-nose (particularly the moment where one of Jimmy Smits' clerks hints at her secret love for him by shouting "I love you!" in front of the whole team), the moments of attempted comic relief will make you cringe, and even the cinematography and editing attempt to be flashy and modern in the most obnoxious way. And the premise is sort of moronic if you think about it. A Supreme Court justice willingly stepping down to fight for the little guy isn't the world's worst hook and could maybe work for a feature film with a much, much better writer, but in a TV series once you've gotten all that out of the way in the first half of the pilot it's just another fucking lawyer show for the rest of its lifespan, be that six episodes or, god forbid, six seasons.

Will I watch again? I admit, the sheer comedic value of how bad Outlaw is might actually drive me to watch another episode at some point. But probably not the next one. I need a little time to recover first.


The premise in ten words or less? Gangsters in Prohibition-era Atlantic City smuggle alcohol, Scorsese directs.

Any good? Well, no shit. So much digital ink has been spilled talking about this series that there isn't a whole lot left for me to add. It's a period piece gangster epic with terrific actors (Steve Buscemi is the star and brings his fascinating, off-kilter energy to every frame while A Serious Man's Michael Stuhlbarg makes nearly as great an impression as Arnold Rothstein), the production values surpass plenty of feature films and all except a few TV shows ever made, and there's lots of grit and moral ambiguity and a fantastic visual style established by no less than Martin Scorsese. The pilot was terrific, one of the best I've seen, albeit so obviously the first chapter in a sprawling and novelistic story that reviewing it by itself is probably akin to reviewing the first seven pages of a book.

The basic premise could be likened to The Wire (which examines how the War on Drugs actually bolsters crime in contemporary Baltimore, while this one examines how the illegality of booze bolsters crime in 1920s Jersey), but with all subtlety intentionally removed. Contemporary Scorsese is not a subtle filmmaker. Take a look at Gangs of New York, The Departed, or Shutter Island and you'll see what I mean; Scorsese lays out all themes and ideas with tremendous energy, muscular style, crackling dialogue, and, in Boardwalk Empire, a whole lot of pomp and circumstance. This show is smart and complex but it's also visually beautiful and really entertaining.

Will I watch again? Yes, I will be watching the whole season. And HBO has already renewed it for a second season, so we got at least 23 more hours of Atlantic City hilarity left to go. What a grand time to own a television!


The premise in ten words or less? Unambitious procedural about federal marshals in Texas.

Any good? This show is a fucking catastrophe. I'm blown away that NBC would even take this thing to series. I'd discuss the plot of the pilot — a serial killer is loose in Texas, some interchangeable federal marshals led by Kelli Giddish bust down doors and connect the clues to track him down, culminating in a lackluster action scene when they finally reach him — but other than the fact that that's clearly going to be the plot of every single episode there's no point. The show has no serialized elements of any kind. It's dry and unambitious and takes itself so, so, so seriously for such a generic procedural. Longest 42 minutes I've sat through lately. In summary, Chase will be this season's breakout hit.

Will I watch again?


The premise in ten words or less? Lost wannabe mixed with 24 wannabe.

Any good? I'm on the fence, leaning towards "no" but willing to keep an open mind. The pilot is a festival of nonsense that leaps back and forwards through time, with the president planning to release the captives of a Guantanamo-style secret prison in Alaska against the wishes of his advisors, some vague references to "the event," a man's girlfriend disappearing as if she never existed during a vacation, the same man appearing on a plane days later with no explanation and attempting to stop the pilot (his girlfriend's father) from dive-bombing the plane into the president, and finally the plane disappearing into a blue wormhole just before impact, presumably "the event."

It's obviously trying to be like Lost with its serialized mystery and ensemble cast and flashbacks, while it's obviously trying to be like 24 with its frenetic pacing and utilization of the President of the United States as a main character. And it kept my attention with relatively few scoffs along the way, but the biggest problem is that absolutely none of the characters made the slightest impact whatsoever. No personalities. Not one of them had a single quirk or flaw or unique character trait. Lost has also made me extremely nervous about getting involved in these longform serialized mysteries, because who knows whether or not the solution will turn out to be a giant glowing sand vagina.

Will I watch again? I swear to god I will use a straight razor to remove the nuts of the next person I hear excuse Lost's piece of shit finale with "it was always about the characters", but Lost did actually establish compelling and unique personalities within its first few episodes. However, The Event is still a couple short of a few episodes, so I'll give it a little more time to build its cast and to see if it provides satisfying answers to any of the mysteries. But the moment I start checking the clock in the middle of episodes to see when it's going to end, I'm done.


The premise in ten words or less? Texas conman lives two separate lives, wants to go straight.

Any good? Really good, actually. With Friday Night Lights ending in six months I'm gonna be needing a new serialized drama set in Texas and co-starring Adrianne Palicki to fill the massive hole that will leave in my TV life, and Lone Star looks like it could do the trick. It plays a little bit like a modern riff on Dallas incorporating decades of advancement in TV storytelling — beautiful cinematography, film-quality performances, emotional subtlety, rich serialization, and actually being shot in Texas rather than on backlots in Hollywood.

We follow a conman named Bob Allen who sells phony gas and oil leases to people all across Texas, including to what seems like most everyone in a Midland suburb. Unfortunately he's also fallen in love and moved in with a Midland girl and can't bring himself to just take his money and run; he actually wants to find a way to pay the people back on their investments so he can keep up his charade. Meanwhile, in Houston, he's goddamn married to another woman who he had planned to use to worm his way into her father's oil business to steal millions, but when he's finally offered a job in the company he decides he loves his wife and wants to maintain that life, too. But his conman daddy ain't happy with his plans to go clean and both houses of cards seem poised to collapse at any moment.

The thing I enjoy about the show is the bundle of contradictions that is the protagonist. He's genial and kindhearted in his day-to-day demeanor (even giving $50 to a cashier he doesn't know so the cashier won't get fired for someone stealing from the store), but he's also an absolute piece of shit. He's a thief and a liar and a remorseless adulterer; perhaps not a terrible person by the standards of genre fiction where terrible people want to blow up the earth, but in a real-world based show like this he's just about the worst fucking human being on the planet. Actor James Wolk does a good job with the emotional complexity of the part but isn't 100% believable as the ladies man he's made out to be, complete with gorgeous women in hotel bars quickly propositioning him for no-strings-attached sex. He has boyish good looks but lacks the raw, Taylor Kitschian animal magnetism necessary to truly pull that off.

Will I watch again? Absolutely. Looking forward to it. But I suspect Lone Star is not long for this world. It's emotionally rich, original and well-acted, with strong dialogue, meaty characters and a palpable sense of its settings, which means mainstream America won't be interested. Add to that the fact that it's on the trigger-happy Fox network and we'll be lucky to see this thing through to the end of its (hopefully self-contained) thirteen-episode first season. But I'll be there to watch.