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Fox Needs To Spend Its Summer Vacation Making Us More 9-1-1s

The LA and Austin series were a good start, but it's time FOX went Dick Wolf with its star franchise.
  • Rob Lowe of 9-1-1 Lone Star (center), with Angela Bassett and Peter Krause of 9-1-1. (Photos: Fox)
    Rob Lowe of 9-1-1 Lone Star (center), with Angela Bassett and Peter Krause of 9-1-1. (Photos: Fox)

    When you live in New York or Los Angeles, there's little excitement in learning that a new TV show takes place in your town; it happens all the time. But when you live in a smaller city — one less frequently depicted in pop culture — you may feel obligated to check out every show that attempts to represent it. That's how I came to screen the pilot of Walker, The CW's remake of the long-running CBS series Walker, Texas Ranger, set in my adopted hometown of Austin, Texas; that one didn't take. It's also what made me start watching 9-1-1: Lone Star, sister series to Fox's first-responder drama 9-1-1; that one stuck.

    So what kept me watching 9-1-1: Lone Star? A firefighter accidentally shot by a child. A golf-course electrocution. An arson committed to conceal the theft of bull semen. In short: wild saves, and plenty of them. I got so addicted, in fact, that between Season 2 episodes of Lone Star, I made my way through its Los Angeles-set progenitor. Now both shows are on hiatus for the summer, I'm all caught up on old episodes, and I am bereft. And to be honest, I blame Fox for stranding me here. It doesn't have to be this way. The 9-1-1 franchise needs to be blown all the way out, so that one iteration or other is airing new episodes all year 'round.

    For those not familiar with the series: persons in distress call 911, and an operator at the call center sends firefighters and paramedics to rescue them. While the formula may sound simple, what makes the show so engrossing is the nature of the callers' various calamities, which tend to be outlandish. 9-1-1 has built multi-episode arcs around earthquakes (plural), a tsunami, and a sniper; we've also seen a bouncy house blow away from a child's birthday party with people still in it, a paramedic locked in a bank vault with a patient; and a shark "beached" — still alive and snapping its jaws — in the middle of a freeway. Lone Star memorably kicked off with multiple firefighter fatalities at a fertilizer plant explosion, and has since brought us a gruesome roller derby mishap, a man calling in for his choking twin... to whom he is conjoined, an eye injury caused by stripper glitter, and chaos in metro Austin following the eruption of a formerly dormant volcano.

    Occasionally calls will involve a criminal element — this happens much more often on 9-1-1, where Angela Bassett, an executive producer, plays LAPD sergeant Athena Grant. Generally, though, callers have just been spectacularly unfortunate, permitting the viewer to be entertained by these disasters without interrogating the shows' pro-cop agenda. (9-1-1 has, in more recent seasons, included storylines in which Athena is forced to ponder what it means to be both a Black woman and a police officer in 21st-century America; these tend to resolve with her proving that the problem is with individual officers as opposed to an inherently racist system, which is... annoying every time. Lone Star also has a cop character as a series regular — Rafael L. Silva's Carlos Reyes — but his function is mainly to romance paramedic T.K., played by Ronen Rubinstein, in extremely hot queer sex scenes that apparently helped Rubinstein come to terms with his bisexuality; naturally, that's much more enjoyable to watch than when Carlos is required to promote carceral values.)

    Sadly, not every episode of the franchise is a non-stop thrill ride: perhaps for budgetary reasons, 9-1-1 started peppering in episodes where we focus on a single character and flash back to the events that brought them to their current line of work. Paramedic Hen (Aisha Hinds) was present on the scene when a life coach she was working with required emergency medical intervention, inspiring Hen to give up her highly paid job in pharma sales. Buck (Oliver Stark) bounced around a number of different jobs around the country, staying away from his cold parents, before enrolling in the fire academy. In the recently-concluded second season, Lone Star also succumbed to this constriction of catastrophes with an episode in which we learn how Judd (Jim Parrack) turned Grace (Sierra Aylina McClain), his favorite prayer line operator, into his wife. Maybe these episodes, in addition to costing less than those with huge, effects-heavy set pieces, are meant to make us appreciate the dust storms and train derailments more when they return. But I personally do not care what the first-responder characters were doing before the events of the series in which they appear; I want to see them treat a woman who woke up mid-facelift!

    This brings me back to my main point, which is: there should be more 9-1-1 series. Lots more. In my initial Lone Star review, I mentioned a hypothetical 9-1-1: Golden Gate; what a great place to start — and just as likely to be buffeted by earthquakes! Also subject to accidents arising from dangerous fog conditions, and think of all the fictional tech-startup nitwits who could hurt themselves falling off their scooters or run off the road in their self-driving cars! After that, Fox could do a smaller market: how about 9-1-1: St. Louis? Trouble at the Arch is so obvious it would have to happen in the pilot, but there could also be disasters where someone wanders off the tour at the Purina plant or Anheuser-Busch brewery. When I worked at Bravo (and I didn't sign an NDA, so I think this is fine to say), my manager told me the network chose the cities where Top Chef seasons were set based on which markets had lower viewership to give them a reason to tune in; surely Fox could do the same thing with its lower-performing affiliates.

    Not to be rude, but Fox has made a summer schedule full of pure garbage. Cheap, presumably Covid-safe reality shows like Crime Scene Kitchen, Lego Masters, and Mental Samurai are expected; everyone likes to pinch a penny. But even the animated series Fox will be airing this summer — the returning Duncanville and new pet-com Housebroken — have the whiff of the second string about them. A year-round 9-1-1 strategy would give Fox at least one scripted, live-action hour-long show for viewers to look forward to every week, and by "viewers," I mean me. NBC has proved there's room for three Chicago shows, and CBS has three NCISes (with Hawaii replacing the wrapped New Orleans this fall). Fox owes us at least one more 9-1-1 — and why stop there? Don't make me stage a preposterous emergency as a protest to make it happen.

    Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.

    TOPICS: 9-1-1, FOX, 9-1-1: Lone Star, Angela Bassett, Brad Falchuck, Ryan Murphy, Tim Minear