9-1-1: Lone Star

3 out of 5

Created by: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Tim Minear

covers season 1

Over the course of its (at this point) three seasons, 9-1-1 has become as engaging as any given (something)-of-the-week series to which you’ve given your time.  It leaned into its most insane crises to help smooth past the soap opera interplay of its characters, and then emerged from around a bend of that soapiness to become a reliably solid mix of never ending spins on insane 9-1-1 calls and episode-spanning events, starring a diverse and generally enjoyable-to-watch cast which had been allowed to develop their characters enough so that each and every one could support highlight episodes.  It works.  I wouldn’t have pegged it as a candidate for a spin-off show, but then again, I’m not Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Tim Minear or (as far as I know) a TV honcho of any repute, so obviously I’m not versed on the businessings of such things.  And so a spin-off did we get, shifting to Texas and thus cutely subtitled ‘Lone Star.’

The setup is very much the same: crises; soap opera.  Because we’re in Texas, the crises often involve farms and cowboys and whatnot, and in order to differentiate itself from its parent show a bit further – and perhaps / likely to make a splash in an era demanding representation – almost every member of ‘company 126’ has some type of needs-representation quality.  But because this is a Murphy / Falchuk / Minear joint, no sooner are these elements introduced than they’re happy-day swept ‘neath 126’s all-inclusive rug.  We don’t ignore these things, but 9-1-1: Lone Star exists in a rather idealized state where you are, for example, a trans man, and you can talk to your firehouse buddies about your difficulties in dating because everyone on your team couldn’t care less that you’re a trans man, and just sees you as a person.  It’s maybe a bit eye-rolly at first when they introduce the cast and seem to be checking off diversity boxes, but this is sort of necessary so as not to make a big deal out of it, and then it’s appreciated when you realize that the show is going to almost wholly focus on its raison d’être – spectacle – as well it should.  And this stuff is rather amusingly “Texan,” as suggested, and rather suffers in comparison to some of the more inventive stuff allowed for in the original show’s LA setting, but, hey – 9-1-1 isn’t on while 9-1-1: Lone Star is airing, so it feels a need.

…And there’s still that soap opera aspect, of course.  Something else spin-offs generally demand is some out front “reason” to watch – you’ll get followers of show A, but how do you rope in new viewers? – and that often takes the form of a top-billed star, here represented by Rob Lowe.  Lowe is very welcome, for sure, playing in to his forever youthful shtick as the chief of the company, recruited from NY and so giving the show some lazy fish-out-of-water comedy opportunities as well, and then he also gets to be the source of part of that soapiness, because – wouldn’t ya’ know – he has cancer.  This really wasn’t a necessary addition, which could be said for most of Lone Star’s soap opera, but 9-1-1 had these same growing pains at its outset, so maybe Lowe and crew (and their writers) just need some time to grow.

However, because it’s a spin-off, growth or no, it’s going to be hard to ever view this as something other than 9-1-1 lite.  The switch in locales is cute for giving it a different tone, but the two shows are otherwise absolutely the same thing, and Lone Star feels a bit forced in trying to jump right in to the same camaraderie offered on 9-1-1.  But, whatever, them TV honchos know spin-offs work: I watch show A, and so I’m here for show B.