Even with the casting of Rob Lowe and Liv Tyler, any franchisee of 9-1-1 was going to have a lot to live up to with its sister series.
There is something exceptional about the OG 9-1-1 family of characters that were established in their relationships well before we started peering into their activities.
That group of first responders is hardworking, full of heart, comes with mysterious and compelling backstories, and naturally diverse.
The same cannot be said for the new crew that we're going to follow on 9-1-1: Lone Star.
Whether that's going to fly in the long run, I don't know. 9-1-1: Lone Star Season 1 Episode 1 spent a lot of time establishing why characters were involved with the new venture as well as why Lowe's Captain Owen Strand was called from New York to Texas to rescue a sunken ship.
And right off the bat, I have a lot of issues with how it was done and what to make of the characters.
So let's start at the top, which is a twofer explaining what originally happened to Station 126 and why a decorated Captain in Manhattan would be compelled to leave all that he loves for the different world of Texas.
Let's start with the tragedy first. The very first response we witness as viewers is when a dinkus security guard in Austin, Texas, somehow thinks, after about 70 years in existence, that it's OK to plop a foil-covered into the microwave.
That draws to mind a couple of things, the first of which is how in the hell did this guy get a job as a security guard for a factory that housed dangerous materials?
The second is that it's a dig on security guards, something that happens a little too frequently for my taste. Is that terrible trope going to go on forever? They're real jobs that proud men and women hold, and they're forever the bane of comedic and tragic tropes on television. For shame, Hollywood.
A message that comes from the horrible incident is that the 126 had no idea what to expect from a call to the plant.
If a place that houses ammonium nitrate ever wants to get the protection of local first responders, there should be a program in place to keep everyone safe so they can adequately work within an emergency to keep the plant, the staff, and the responders from harm. Most do not.
However, fewer than 4% of calls answered by firemen are for actual fires, so maybe safety is so good in 2020 that most believe modern building protocols will save the day before they even arrive on the scene.
We find out later that the explosion that only Judd survives closed down the house. I can only assume that everyone in the house was alerted and responded.
That's why a commander flies all the way to New York City in an attempt to recruit renowned Owen away from the city he loves to reestablish the 126.
Owen is a legend because he rebuilt his decimated house after 9/11. He's often a legend in his own mind for entirely different reasons.
To drive home a message about 9/11 responders and to give Owen the kick in the pants he needs to reconsider the tremendous Austin offer, he's diagnosed with lung cancer.
Doctor: You were at Ground Zero when the buildings came down, yes?
Owen: [nods] Yeah.
Doctor: Then I don't have to tell you by the 20th anniversary of 9/11, more survivors who were there that day and during the cleanup will get sick or die than people killed on 9/11 itself.
Owen: This is going to kill me, isn't it?
It's horrid what has happened to those survivors who worked tirelessly in the wake of the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001. There is no doubt about that.
But I'm not sure tying it directly to Owen is the best idea and not only because it feels like too much.
First, it calls into question his ability to do the job for an extended period, and second, it's going to leave a question mark over the character's head for the entire series run because finding a loopy cure in Austin just isn't going to cut it for a franchise like 9-1-1.
But Owen was going to deal with it on the job in Manhattan, his home, until his son, T.K.about tried to kill himself after a breakup.
It's not an overt mention, but when Owen asks his kid if he's back to his old ways, that asserts that T.K. might have been a drug addict in the past. He most assuredly was, really.
And if discovering his boyfriend was cheating on him sends him to the bottle of pills, I don't want him at my rescue. But his "loving" father decided just to call it an overdose so he could continue working at his side as a first responder.
That is a terrible call and one that drains respect from Owen. Does he do it because he feels having his son at his side is a better formula for success than tough love? Does it matter?
On 9-1-1, Buck was sidelined longer for an injury he sustained on the job because Bobby was worried about his safety, as well as that of his colleagues and the people they are tasked to save.
There isn't a single good reason that T.K. still gets to work in Manhattan, let alone successfully transfer with his father to Austin.
He WAS a drug addict. He took drugs. Even if he wasn't trying to overdose, he knew well enough that if he touched the pills, he was killing his sobriety. But, I think he was trying to kill himself.
It was a terrible plot device used to force Owen away from the city and friends he loved to "protect" his son from the big bad ways of New York. Just wow.
What makes that decision even worse is that after Owen is done making the firehouse into his version of New York with big windows and bright light to keep the firefighters on task, he wants to hold at arm's length the only person who survived the 126 catastrophe by judging Judd for his PTSD.
So, his son gets two shots at new houses just after an overdoes over A BREAKUP, but Judd, who has lived in misery after his entire house perished before his eyes has to pay a more lengthy price.
Making things even a little worse because why not was that they painted the only white guy up for the 126 job as someone seemingly narrow-minded right out of the gate.
We learn right quick that it was a misnomer, but that it felt necessary to go there in the first place is part of the reason I hate these situations in entertainment.
Why dangle that "ist" or "ism" carrot out in front of the audience? The "aha" moment should have come when Judd didn't respond to Owen's recruitment tactics negatively, but instead, they felt the necessity to paint him as a redneck even if he wasn't.
None of it worked even if the result will be that the only two white guys in the house find some special bond because of it.
So let's talk a little bit about the inclusion situation. It's unfortunate that Owen wanted to scour the entire U.S. for diverse firefighters instead of rebuilding the house with Austin residents.
After suffering such a tragedy, there has to be something to say about rebuilding from within. And I don't for a second believe that Owen could have only found a diverse sampling by going elsewhere even if the Department of Justice got involved demanding the change of demographics.
Is there a list somewhere that Owen viewed tipping him off to firefighters in Miami and Chicago that met his qualifications? I appreciate the effort he took, but I don't like his method. The same goes for the series as a whole.
The OG 9-1-1 demographic makeup is well rounded without making a point of speaking to each character because of their diversity. They are beautifully written characters.
I assume Lone Star is making a point about first responders not needing to fit traditional guidelines. That point was already well established on the sister series just by existing, but OK.
They go the extra mile on Lone Star to almost goofy lengths. No, it's not by hunting down a Muslim woman or a trans man to fill the spots, but by making Owen as anti-masculine as possible with his skincare regimen and quips about his hair (You'll see it, eventually; I promise).
And something that the series also pokes fun at is how "woke" Owen is by addressing his inherent whiteness. Even Marjan pokes back at him when he brings up her religion as a possible reason she's gotten hired in Miami -- the very reason he seems to be wanting to lure her to Texas.
Hell, Owen even had the audacity to ask Paul if he had keen assessment skills because he's trans. Just accept the impressive skillset!
Mateo: My teachers always told me I was a little slow.
Owen: I don't know what your teachers told you in the past, but I know what you're not. You're not stupid.
Mateo: I'm not?
Owen: No. You're thorough, you're relentless, and you're exactly the kind of man I want on the 126.
So much time was spent on Owen's wokeness that it seems unbelievable he's so blind when it comes to his own family.
He's so enlightened that he misses the cues about his son, his addiction relapse, and what kind of a risk he is on the job in the wake of a suicide attempt. So woke, but also asleep at the wheel.
And the show is so on top of things that they decided to make fun of the white guy taking over the station in lieu of hiring someone representative of the show's premise.
Owen: Well, I'm flattered, but if you're gonna put diversity first, shouldn't you hire somebody who's, you know, diverse?
Radford: We need somebody like you. We need somebody who truly understands how much rebuilding this house is gonna heal the community.
See, 9-1-1: Lone Star knows it's calling its premise into question by hiring handsome (and talented) Rob Lowe to fill its lead role. You can tell because handsome (and skilled) Owen Strand asked the same question when he got recruited for the job as Captain.
The result feels like pandering on two levels instead of one.
The female lead is a white woman, too. Liv Tyler's sweet voice belies the badass qualities of her medical captain, Michelle. I enjoy Tyler in the role, upending that beautiful women can't be tough.
I guess Lowe's character is supposed to be upending that handsome, rugged firemen can be in touch with their feminine side.
When we're watching a show about how the DOJ had to get involved because diversity was such an issue, it feels a little awkward that the message sent is lost within its ranks and, if I'm not mistaken, will probably lead to the Caucasian leads in a relationship together.
Michelle: Captain Strand, shall we?
Owen: Oh, no, no, no. You do not want to see me line dance.
Michelle: Oh, are you shy? I thought you weren't scared of anything.
Owen: Ahhh, now I see why you invited us all here. I see you. Tryin' to exert your dominance?
Michelle: Well, I just think a man should have to earn his spurs.
White leads, leading their diverse teams (on- and off-screen), and likely falling for each other. Ouch.
So much for diversity.
But I already like Michelle and am interested in learning more about what happened to her sister that sent her pounding on a man's door in broad daylight demanding answers.
Maybe Owen will eventually surprise me, too. Lowe's acting is fine; it's the character I'm not fully on board with yet. And I don't doubt the stories of the others will be engaging, but we didn't get much to work with during the premiere.
The emergencies weren't all that interesting, to be honest. I've pretty much forgotten about the case that first introduced Owen and Michelle outside of its requirement to show Michelle's the yin to his yang.
The baby in the tree trick wasn't bad, but still a bit bland. Surely, we're in for some crazy cases that make us scratch our heads at the death-defying hijinks pulled from real-life and heightened for our amusement. Surely.
If you're wondering where all of the Texas is in this new setting, there was line dancing! And Owen even proved himself on the dance floor after admitting the trend in the '90s wasn't lost on him.
I have some favorite characters already, but since I've seen two episodes and you've only seen the one, I'll keep them to myself until the next review to give you some time to catch up.
In the second half of the two-part premiere airing tomorrow at 8/7c, you'll get more of the Texas feel and to know more about Michelle, especially as it pertains to her sister, and you'll learn that Owen's looks come at the cost of a beauty regimen that soars well beyond his skincare prowess.
Carlos will continue to pursue T.K., and the case at the start of the hour will be worth the price of admission even if it's something we've seen before on The X-Files (this time with a medical explanation).
9-1-1: Lone Star isn't a bad addition to the franchise so far, it's just not as winning out of the gate as the first. It's because they're trying too damn hard to be too many things all at once at the expense of the fun of the original.
Even when the rescues on 9-1-1 are downright scary, they're still approached with the attitude that they're meant to entertain viewers first. The characters didn't have to prove themselves to us because they had already proven themselves to each other. Everything felt organic.
On Lone Star, the characters seem to be saving themselves and each other first. That theme is also prevalent on 9-1-1, but the reveals come with the emergencies that often relate to one or more team members with the messages they learn. Here, the cases didn't offer much by way of character connection.
So, the best-case scenario didn't come to be on 9-1-1: Lone Star, but there is still a chance it can be as entertaining as the original. The question is, will you still be watching?
What is your hot take on the premiere?
What do you hope to see during the second half of the premiere tomorrow night?
Did anything surprise you?
And if you're judging it against its sister series, how does it rank?
Hit the comments with your thoughts!
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Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on X and email her here at TV Fanatic.