Review: 9-1-1: Lone Star 1×1 (US: Fox)

Rob Lowe does Park & Recreation in Texas

9-1-1: Lone Star

In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, Fox
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Spin-offs are a funny old game. You can either do more of the same, just in a different location, or you can do something completely different. The former risks being boring, cannibalising your own ratings and ultimately not attracting anyone new to the show; the latter risks ostracising your existing viewers while not recruiting anyone new.

In the world of procedural TV, the limits are even more restrictive. A cop show is a cop show is a cop show, no matter where you go, so you have to find room to manoeuvre elsewhere.

So kudos to 9-1-1: Lone Star for being brave and different – and making a clean break of it. Sure, just like 9-1-1, it’s still all about the emergency services, focusing on paramedics and firefighters, but as the name suggests it’s set in Texas, and it has no characters in common with the original show. It also has a more famous cast.

More importantly, unlike its predecessor, it’s at least half comedy, that comedy being Parks & Recreation.

9-1-1: Lone Star
Rob Lowe in ITV’s 9-1-1: Lone Star

9-1-1: Lone Star

The story revolves around fancy pants New York firefighter Rob Lowe (last seen starring in the oddly similar show Wild Bill on ITV). Now, already you’ve probably done a double-take and wondered “fancy pants New York firefighter? Since when have they ever been fancy pants?”

Bear with me. All will be explained.

Cityslicker Lowe was one of the first responders to 9/11 and he was forced to rebuild his team of firefighters from scratch following that tragedy. This makes him a figure of interest to the Austin, Texas, fire department, when a tragedy befalls their firefighters. Needing someone who also ‘gets’ diversity – mainly to avoid lawsuits but also because Austin ain’t what it used to be – they invite Lowe down to work his magic, which Lowe agrees to once he learns he has cancer.

Gay, addict son in tow, Lowe starts to reform the department in his new town, recruiting Latinos, transmen and Muslim women Instagram stars from all over the country – and they aren’t just diverse, they can also get the job down. Making things even more alluring to Lowe is the fact the captain of the paramedics is none other than Liv Tyler. Will romance bloom? And can Austin take Lowe and his ‘Gucci loafers’?

L-R: Guest star Patrika Darbo, Julian Works, Rob Lowe and Brian Michael Smith in the ‘Yee-Haw’ episode of 9-1-1: Lone Star ©2020 Fox Media LLC. CR: Jack Zeman/FOX.

Lone workers

As I said, half the show is Parks and Recreation. I say that because Lowe may ostensibly be from New York, but as his character admits, he grew up in Santa Monica and moved to New York when he was 15. Effectively, Lowe therefore is recreating his character from Parks and Recreation.

He knocks down the walls in the fire station to create more natural light. He’s helping people to find good therapists and AA groups. He’s a damn fine line dancer. And in perhaps the funniest scene of many funny scenes in the episode, he also provides damn good skincare advice to his male employees.

The other half? The now traditional 9-1-1 formula of waiting for tragic accidents sparked off by the unpredictable, in which heroic emergency workers save the day. But there’s also the blossoming romance and rivalry between Lowe and Tyler, as well the various elements of wokeness you’d expect from the show, all against a backdrop of what is really an Austin tourist board promotional video designed to encourage more Californians to move to Texas.

Some of that is simply showing them familiar pop-up food trucks, some of it is playing up Texan neighbourliness, with random women baking cookies for the firefighters. But the message is clear: this isn’t the Austin, Texas, of even 20 years ago – there aren’t even that many Texans here.

Jim Parrack ©2020 Fox Media LLC. CR: Jack Zeman/FOX.

Texas Jim

Indeed, there’s only about one Texan in the entire piece and that’s Jim Parrack, who’s the lone survivor of said tragedy. His function is to be the standard blue collar Texan with honourable, conservative values. He has PTSD, but he doesn’t want to do anything about it. Fortunately, he’ll learn the correct Californian New York ways from Lowe soon enough. But that’s not before he actually has some interesting things to say, even about 9/11.

Lowe is great, as you might imagine. Tyler is… odd. She seems to be playing it like she’s on quaaludes, for no well explored reason. There’s also a lot of backstory lurking behind her character, ready to spill out, but we’ve yet to see that.

Otherwise, it’s a generic, diverse, cast of young but not especially remarkable actors, who’ll need time to settle into their cookie-cutter, yet simultaneously stereotype-breaking roles. As you might imagine from a show exec produced by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Tim Minear, everything here is well researched and understood, so don’t expect to be Foxed by 9-1-1: Lone Star.

Liv Tyler in 9-1-1: Lone Star
Liv Tyler in 9-1-1: Lone Star

No emergency call needed

Not knowing much about the show in advance apart from its improbable set-up, I wasn’t expecting much of 9-1-1: Lone Star. But while I more or less fell asleep through the “traumatic accident scenes”, everything else I enjoyed a surprising amount.

Procedurals aren’t really my thing, so I can’t imagine myself watching 9-1-1: Lone Star for very lone. Yet at the same time, a cultural-clash comedy that just happens to have elements of Casualty is far more palatable to me. So I might just be sticking with it.