BRUCE R. MILLER
If you thought there were a lot of awards in country music, wait until you see the new Fox series, “Monarch.”
Located in Nashville, it suggests these all-important popularity totems rule the industry. Before the end of the first season, we get several tribute shows, including a biting competition that pits family member against family member.
But first, you must realize that the Roman family is the undisputed royalty of the country. Dottie (Susan Sarandon) is the queen; Albie (Trace Adkins) is king. They have two daughters, Nicolette (Anna Friel) and Gigi (Beth Ditto), who are hot to take the mom title. She understands it and has a very complicated way of transmitting the family porcelain.
“Monarch,” in fact, is such a hodgepodge of styles that you don’t know if it’s a satire or a soap opera. Instead of creating new songs for something like this (like “Nashville”), “Monarch” includes many recognizable hits and suggests that they are the creations of the Roman clan. Shania Twain (who makes a guest appearance) gets a great shot at practice, but, for the most part, it’s the greatest hits sung by a cover band.
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Created by Melissa London Hilfers, “Monarch” was supposed to air last season but pandemic filming issues delayed the start date. It’s not necessarily in his favour. There’s a Judds-like episode that’s terrible and should have been canceled before the season started.
There’s also a mix of tropes that wear out quickly. Albie always seems to be reaching for his gun; Nicolette constantly stabs people in the back, and Gigi goes to great lengths to ruffle feathers. Only son Luke (Joshua Sasse) is trying to smooth things over and it’s probably because he has a few rattling skeletons too. Interestingly, he looks a lot like David Copperfield – wave an arm and, like magic, the problems disappear.
Because ‘Monarch’ (which is the name of the family business) doesn’t really dig under its ‘Dallas’/’Dynasty’ trappings, there are plenty of moments that ring true. When the performers are on stage, they seem real. When they insult each other at home, they look fake.
“Monarch” is trying to get into the pressure that comes with something like the music industry, but country music is more laid back than most genres. You can see it when real stars come out for cameos. Karen Fairchild has a nice bit in a later episode; Tanya Tucker goes on like she’s on a one-night stand across the Midwest.
And then there’s Susan Sarandon. She is the force behind the whole plot. Determined to be a legend, she manipulates everyone – even Jesus, with her “Half Christmas” – and wonders why not everyone supports her.
Because Hilfers constantly flashes back, he’s never sure what happened. This is not a “This Is Us” conceit. It’s a “This Is Them” that doesn’t work.
Among the family members, Ditto wins the most support. She has a Wynonna streak that bodes well for longevity, but a sister who just can’t get enough of a story.
The sprawling show features plenty of wandering parents (Faith Prince is a hoot as Dottie’s sister) and potential “writing” partners.
Friel does a great job playing a hot mess, but Adkins often struggles with lines that wouldn’t have made it out of the corral in “Gunsmoke.”
When you see how the first two episodes pan out (don’t even mention the hologram), you’ll understand why “Monarch” isn’t nearly a preview of what Nashville really looks like.
There’s a great story to tell about the city (remember Robert Altman’s take?). It’s not that.
“Monarch” airs Sept. 11 on Fox.