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Series Premiere: Lone Star – “Pilot”

“Pilot”

September 20th, 2010

“If you want to make something last, you need to make it with your own two hands.”

David Bordwell, a prominent film scholar, wrote earlier this month about his personal experience with television as medium, in particular why he doesn’t write about it despite the so-called golden age of serialized television. While his piece briefly speaks to his (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) lack of interest in modern texts, it focuses primarily on his childhood experience with television, which leads him to this depiction of television viewership:

“Having been lured by intriguing people more or less like us, you keep watching. Once you’re committed, however, there is trouble on the horizon. There are two possible outcomes. The series keeps up its quality and maintains your loyalty and offers you years of enjoyment. Then it is canceled. This is outrageous. You have lost some friends. Alternatively, the series declines in quality, and this makes you unhappy. You may drift away. Either way, your devotion has been spit upon.”

I raise this point because it creates the image of television as an investment, which leads me to FOX’s Lone Star. A show about a con artist who convinces others to invest in a lie, the series itself raises an important question in relation to Bordwell’s notion of devotion: is Lone Star a con?

It’s the question that everyone has sort of been struggling with: the pilot is a polished, intelligent episode of television, featuring a strong lead performance by James Wolk and a strong supporting cast, but there remains this sense that it is all smoke and mirrors. It isn’t necessarily that we think the writers and producers are incapable of making a great series, but rather the concern is that the premise just isn’t expansive enough to sustain itself over multiple seasons (or an entire network season, for that matter), leaving room for future heartbreak when it (as Bordwell predicts) fails to live up to our lofty expectations.

But, as someone who enjoys the ups and downs of television and wouldn’t have it any other way, I don’t think that this uncertainty should keep us from enjoying it. Lone Star is not, in fact, a con: the pilot doesn’t hide anything beneath the surface, resisting the sense of mystery and uncertainty that plagues other series of this nature. While the premise may not have the longevity of your basic crime procedural, this is a well-made premise pilot that rarely blinks in presenting a clear scenario to its audience.

Yes, it could all come tumbling down in a few episodes – based on this pilot, however, I (unlike Bordwell) will take that risk.

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Review: NBC’s Chase Lacks Character, Consequence

Review: NBC’s Chase

September 20th, 2010

If NBC’s Chasedebuting tonight at 9/8c – were the only show on the air about U.S. Marshals, I’d probably be more inclined to recommend it. There is nothing particularly terrible about its premise, the cast is perfectly acceptable if a bit bland, and the dynamism of the Marshals Service really does make for a strong foundation for a procedural series.

However, tuning in to see the Jerry Bruckheimerization of the type of premise which made FX’s Justified so compelling this fall, or which has served USA’s In Plain Sight moderately well, doesn’t have the same appeal. Chase captures the problem with network procedurals: instead of trying to find a way to set yourself apart from similar series, the goal is to create something so vague and sterilized that it will avoid turning off potential viewers.

In the process, Chase becomes stripped of anything which could make it truly compelling, leaving us instead with a functional procedural and not much more.

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Treme – “At the Foot of Canal Street”

“At the Foot of Canal Street”

May 2nd, 2010

How do you solve a problem like Katrina? If Treme started out by looking at how people survived the storm and how they are struggling to bounce back personally and professionally from its immediate impact, “At the Foot of Canal Street” moves onto how it is that the myriad of problems caused by the storm are being fixed. As the nation talks about canceling Carnival or not rebuilding the city, and as the city’s public works contractor is revealed to be incompetent, characters are forced to wonder whether they should take things into their own hands and try to enact some change on their own.

There’s some broad strokes in this particular part of the episode, characters proposing political campaigns and recording profanity-laced YouTube videos, but it subtly ripples through the rest of the show’s characters and storylines. Everyone has that point where they wonder if they should take their fate into their own hands, or where they struggle to do the right thing because they know it’s bigger than they realize, and Treme is just as interested in those responses as it is the direct engagement with bureaucracy and national media. “At the Foot of Canal Street” doesn’t entirely fix some of the show’s early red flags, but George Pelecanos nicely integrates even the show’s most problematic character into a narrative that feels as genuine as the rest of the series.

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