Television executives rarely say no to a spinoff. The latest, “FBI: Most Wanted,” seemed like the right choice for CBS. The ratings are good. If any new series posts decent numbers these days, it seems like a miracle.
It will be interesting to see if viewers will embrace “9-1-1: Lone Star,” the first spawn of Fox’s Monday-night hit show “9-1-1.” That series, created by Ryan Murphy, uses its LA location to great effect, having already staged an earthquake in the middle of the city, blown up a firetruck downtown and created a tsunami at the beach in Santa Monica with help from a first-rate special effects team. A gung-ho cast led by Angela Bassett and Peter Krause rappels off cliffs overlooking the Pacific and wades through waist-high water to save the imperiled guest stars week after week. The thrills come from seeing if the company can pull off these complicated, sometimes crazy, stunts.
“Lone Star,” starring Rob Lowe, has more modest ambitions and delivers far less exciting results. First question: Why Austin? The college town doesn’t naturally lend itself to the disasters that allowed “9-1-1” to walk a fine line between outrageous and urgent. The writers come up with only one emergency that’s worthy of the brand, but it’s not until Episode 2. A pissed-off delivery man for a catering company laces the lunch he drops off at an office work meeting with liquid mercury, causing the people who’ve eaten the sandwiches to have fits that send them hurtling to their deaths in the office building atrium. Cool!
Other than that, the “emergencies” are things like asthma attacks, gas explosions in a two-story apartment house. Two stories? Or a racist lady who calls 911 when her Latino neighbors barbeque a steak underground (barbacoa), causing smoke to rise from the dirt outside her house. She fakes a heart attack in hopes of receiving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation from Lowe. C’mon, Ryan Murphy. “9-1-1” got its freak on early with stunts such as babies stuck in pipes and a python that wrapped itself around its owner. You can do better.
Lowe stars as Owen Strand, a veteran New York City firefighter whose experience on 9/11 makes him both a hero and a victim. After a firehouse explosion kills nearly an entire team of Austin first responders, Strand is hired to go down there to rebuild. Much of Sunday night’s premiere — the show moves to its regular Monday-night timeslot the next day — is devoted to Strand putting together his team. As is the case in a Murphy show, all identity politics boxes are checked. There are a female Muslim firefighter, a male gay cop and even a trans firefighter. Voila! The most interesting supporting character is Judd Ryder, well played by Jim Parrack. The lone survivor of the firehouse explosion, he is battling PTSD and only gets his job back if he agrees to go to therapy. Ryder would rather ride horses in the Texas countryside than get to the root of his problems — and his struggles and temper tantrums feel real.
Lowe, on the other hand, is another matter. At the end of a work shift, Strand comes out of the shower in his fluffy white towel to hold a skin-care clinic, advising his employees to never use soap, preferring an exfoliant instead. With his bronzed physique and chiseled chin, Lowe looks like he’s doing an infomercial, not playing a character. When Strand balks at the prospect of giving up his complicated hair-care regiment for medical reasons, he says, “I’ve got to get over myself.” It’s a nice tongue-in-cheek moment that packs zero suspense.
Liv Tyler co-stars with Lowe as Michelle Blake, a breathy, bossy paramedic from the Peggy Lipton school of acting. Old Steph has her own complex backstory of a missing sister that seems like filler. Producers are obviously hoping for some sparks to fly between her and Lowe but the bemused look in her eye whenever he shows up tells me love is a long way off for these two. Perhaps because he spends more time in front of the mirror.