Lone Star was the cable-quality program that ended up on network television and was promptly canceled by FOX as a reminder of the consequences of setting your sights too high.
Perhaps, though, this shouldn't come as a surprise. FOX is the same network that trumpeted The War at Home, the clinically unfunny show that not only caused Arrested Development to be canceled, but was also canceled promptly one season after Arrested Development went off the air. And of course, everyone knows about FOX's love/hate relationship with Family Guy. But even for FOX, two episodes is uncharacteristically fast. However, to say Lone Star was doomed by the network alone would be too much of a stretch. Certainly, this show could have easily garnered a bigger audience with a different time on a different night, but it was still on FOX. The most damning thing in its path might have been its own moral ambiguity.
The show's antihero, Bob Allen, is a con man trying to make a change, but he's also trying to maintain two marriages. This plotline has worked for shows—polygamy on Big Love, identity issues within corporate structure on Mad Men—but those shows are restricted to cable channels. His polygamy, although not an excuse, is not a great surprise considering the overbearing presence of his father and complete absence of a mother. What's more is that his moral clarity was getting worse: he married his second wife in the first episode. It seemed as if he was digging himself a hole, particularly with his career con artist father in tow, that he would never be able to work his way out of.
His father's initial intentions had been to infiltrate the Thatcher oil company and steal millions of dollars, a scheme seemingly combining the stories of Enron, BP and Bernie Madoff. Which is to say, this could could have been a case of content far too topical to be embraced outright. Regardless, Bob somehow manages to (partly) convince his father to go clean, a move that guaranteed his father's restlessness and the increasing friction between the two. Despite the seemingly unfathomable pit that is Bob Allen and his father's hubris, every indication was that they could not fail, could not stop entrenching themselves in Thatcher.
And not to fawn too much, but Clint Thatcher, Bob's father-in-law, is Jon Voight. Sure, neither does Voight have an immaculate track record nor is this his first television show, but it's still Jon Voight smack dab in the middle of prime time television on a Monday night. There are few people who play smarmy, overly-aggressive, suspicious old guys like Jon Voight and it showed. Just about every time Thatcher and Bob had a chat, Thatcher was either a sentence away from figuring out a ruse or from unintentionally ending a scheme.
But every single one of these things were exactly what made Lone Star a good, potentially great, show. Viewers want the ragged, the scared, the cornered to figure it all out, scramble their way to the top and to clean themselves up. That's supposedly the most American thing you can do—work so hard that you have nowhere to go but to the top. And that's exactly what Lone Star was promising: a kid who never had anything, not even a portrait in a high school yearbook, who works so hard and so well that he reaps the rewards of his wildest dreams. A fulfilling job, taking care of his father and multiple marriages. If Mormonism is the only religion that originated in America, then what is more American and aspirational than polygamy? A man so successful he can provide for multiple families? Talk about unresolved daddy issues.
So go gently into that good night, Bob Allen. You will be as missed as FOX will be denigrated.