Among the plethora of mediocre police, fire and rescue procedurals currently plaguing the television landscape, there is none quite so insipid as FOX's 9-1-1: Lone Star. Three episodes in and I'm thoroughly bored by this show which wastes the considerable talents of its cast, its premise, and its putative setting.
I say putative because as a resident of the Austin, TX area, this show very clearly has no idea what the city is about. Look, I get it. Shows say they're set in New York and film in Vancouver. 9-1-1: Lone Star is very clearly filmed in Los Angeles. It's also unclear if anyone involved with the show has ever even stepped foot in Texas, much less Austin, as the show is such a tonal mess and doesn't come anywhere close to matching the soul of the city.
There's no reason this has to happen. Austin is home to numerous successful film and tv projects, most visibly and most iconically, Friday Night Lights, as well as pretty much every single thing Robert Rodriguez touches. (Trivia: the airstrip where Planet Terror was filmed and soundstages where most of Sin City's live action sequences were shot is now one of Austin's premiere neighborhoods.
Thanks, gentrification! Richard Linklater also continues to use the city as a base of operations, and Austin (and its surrounding areas) plays a backdrop that is a huge part of the DNA of his Academy-Award-winning Boyhood. The point is, when something is shot here, and it understands the spirit of the city, it's immediately apparent.
9-1-1: Lone Star has none of this.
The saddest thing is how it wastes the talents of its main cast. Rob Lowe has been on shows both good (The West Wing, Parks and Recreation) and bad (The Lyon's Den), but this is the first time I've wanted to just completely drop a show only three episodes in. Literally all of the good will Lowe has created over the years is just gone and I can't watch this any more.
And then there's Liv Tyler, who might be watchable if she were given anything to do. Instead she has some weird subplot about a missing sister and I'm bored just typing about it. They're also trying to set up a tension between her and Lowe and eventually a will-they-won't-they romance, and it's ridiculous, especially considering Lowe is 55 and she is 42. While not the most cringeworthy on-screen coupling (usually the man is 20 years older instead of just 13), it's still distracting when you consider Lowe was involved in a sex scandal when Tyler was still in elementary school.
The shows next two male leads are boring as hell, as Jim Parrack's country-fried persona couldn't be less Austin if you tried. The only two people actually doing anything interesting on the show are Natacha Karam as a Muslim trying to balance her faith and her job as a firefighter and Brian Michael Smith playing a transgender man.
I applaud the show for puting a trans man front and center and casting a trans actor in a trans role. But in the show's attempt to normalize Smith, it also ceases to be a plot point outside of his introduction in the pilot.
Perhaps some social commentary on the very real problem we face with trans women being murdered in Texas, or the transphobic legislation passed by our legislature? And then we have two Latino characters who are so boring and so meaningless, I almost forget they're on the show.
All of this begs the question: who, exactly, is this show for? Its basic format of procedural centered around first responders who spend their downtime line dancing in a country-western bar screams down-home-red-state-red-meat entertainment.
But from its metrosexual fire chief who spends an outsized amount of time concerned about his hair and skincare (from… NEW YORK CITY?!?!) to a diverse cast that seems far more like they were trying to check boxes than create compelling characters, I'm not sure this would fly anywhere but the coasts. . . and Austin. And this Austinite isn't compelled enough just by box-checking "diversity" to keep me coming back week to week.
Add to that how all of the ways they try to code "Texas" into the show are all wrong. In the third episode, they have to save a teen who fell into a grain silo. There are farms in and around Austin, but they're not growing or silo-ing corn. It's more likely kale. Then in the same episode, an Instagram influencer falls out of her hi-rise apartment doing a yoga pose on her balcony while livestreaming and. . . ok, that is pretty on-brand for Austin.
But the show keeps trying to country-fy the city when you have to realize that over half the population of Texas (and especially Austin) was not born here. Austin has California-native In-N-Out Burger alongside Texas native Whataburger. And the show has yet to feature a foodtruck or authentic Central Texas barbecue or street tacos or Asian-Tex-Mex fusion (you have to try Korean Barbecue tacos).
Jon Favreau's movie Chef spends ten minutes in Austin and nails everything about the city, from Franklin Barbecue to Gary Clark, Jr. I've spent three hours with 9-1-1: Lone Star and nothing scans as uniquely Central Texas, much less Austin.
I don't need verisimilitude from my shows. But when I sit down and watch The Rookie, a similar show in type and execution, I'm not at all distracted by how inauthentic any of it feels. I can forgive that show a lot of faults because it's not distracting me with these problems. Same with the original 9-1-1, which isn't a show I love, but it isn't a show I hate, either.
Really, I'm just disappointed with mastermind Ryan Murphy, who has brought us everything from Glee to American Horror Story to The Politician. Of course, this is a spinoff to Murphy's other popular and successful 9-1-1, and maybe it's just time to admit that this particular well is a little dry.
Or, maybe, just maybe, hire writers who are familiar with Austin, or send them here to eat tacos and figure out the spirit of the city. Maybe even film it here.
But 9-1-1: Lone Star is a hot mess. And not the good kind that we like to smother in queso and enjoy with some local craft brews. Be better.