Fox’s ‘Monarch’ tries to be ‘Empire’ with a twang

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

The pandemic-delayed new series is set mostly in Austin but is shot in Georgia

It’s virtually impossible to come up with a fresh TV show idea without it evoking several other shows. “Monarch,” a new Fox series about a country music dynasty going through a major transition, brings notes of Fox’s surprise hit from the last decade “Empire,” a nod to ABC’s successful soap drama “Nashville” from the same era, and just a smidge of HBO’s “Succession” thrown in for good measure.

Fictionally set largely in Austin, Texas, “Monarch” was actually shot in Georgia, with the massive family estate located in Gainesville. The soapy drama debuts Sunday night at 8 p.m. and will move to Tuesdays after “The Resident” starting Sept. 20.

The show’s biggest name is Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon, who due to a twist in the plotline, isn’t in the show as much as you’d expect. She plays Dottie Roman, the matriarch of a legendary country music family. She has the grandiose heft of a Reba McEntire with the Judds thrown in for good measure (the recent tragedy regarding Naomi Judd’s suicide happened long after “Monarch” had wrapped production).

Dottie’s husband is also a country star, Albie Roman played by real country star Trace Adkins, who provides the show a serious dose of authenticity.

“There’s a lot of him in Albie Roman and Albie Roman in him,” said Jon Feldman, the showrunner and executive producer best known for Kiefer Sutherland’s “Designated Survivor.” “He understands who this man is and what he’s thinking.”

Dottie’s two daughters are also jockeying for relevancy in the country music world: Nicky (actress Anna Friel) and Gigi (real-life singer/songwriter Beth Ditto). Gigi, who is gay, avoided the spotlight for years, in part due to her weight and her sexuality, but once she gets a bit of fame, she kind of likes it. Their sisterly battle becomes a focal point this season.

“People like a little ‘Game of Thrones’ in country music,” said Earl Clark (Kevin Cahoon), as the makeup artist for Dottie and a close personal friend, in the third episode.

Then there’s the third sibling Luke (Joshua Sasse), who has all the good looks of a country superstar himself but is more comfortable running the business behind the scenes. Unfortunately, he has daddy issues. “Albie sees the suits as necessary evils and he never wanted his son to become one of them,” Feldman said.

There’s also a murder mystery thrown in for good measure.

“They have problems as big as Texas,” Feldman said. “They’re involved in murders and blackmail and cover-ups and affairs and secrets and lies. All that stuff is going to come home to roost.”

Fox is taking a big swing with “Monarch,” groping for a hit in a world that is increasingly turning its eyes toward streaming, not broadcast TV. And the series was given a green light without a pilot, which is becoming increasingly common in this day and age.

Unlike “Nashville,” “Monarch” features mostly cover songs á la “Glee,” where in this alternative universe, the Romans generated hit songs like “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” and “Friends in Low Places,” not Shania Twain (who makes an amusing cameoin episode two) or Garth Brooks.

There was real-life drama behind the scenes putting “Monarch” together as well. The show swapped showrunners in November, with Feldman joining the show mid-production. And originally set to debut on Fox in January, the launch was delayed until this month due to COVID-related delays.

Critic’s reviews have been more “I Fall to Pieces” and less “I Like It, I Love It.”

Hollywood Reporter’s Daniel Fienberg eviscerates the show for lacking bite and despite “rather desperately” trying to capture the essence of “Empire”; he sees “Monarch” more like “protracted mediocre karaoke,” which he notes is worse than really bad karaoke.

Daniel D’Addario of Variety said the show possesses “an antic, uncomfortable energy, as if it’s not confident being what it is or about what it’s about.”

AV Club’s Max Gao is kinder, lauding Friel’s nuanced portrayal of Nicky, which she portrays with “such steadfast conviction that it’s easy to wonder why she hasn’t been more successful on this side of the pond since starring in ABC’s ‘Pushing Daisies.’ ”

Credit: Fox

Credit: Fox

IF YOU WATCH

“Monarch,” debuts 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11, and will move to its regular spot at 9 p.m. Tuesdays starting Sept. 20 after “The Resident.”

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