‘Monarch’: Fox show’s a little bit country, a little bit daytime soap
Be prepared for some cheesy twists on the escapist musical drama starring Susan Sarandon and Trace Adkins.
In one of the many, many ultra-dramatic moments in the country & western drama “Monarch,” premiering Sunday after the NFL on Fox, Anna Friel’s Nicolette Roman sits at the piano in her family’s home recording studio and starts singing “The Card You Gamble,” the series’ main title theme. Nicolette sings:
Life is a long road a-full of dust and gravel
It can lead you to a pot of gold or it can come unraveled …
A Fox series premiering Sunday after the Packers-Vikings game (about 7 p.m.) on WFLD-Channel 32, then airing at 8 p.m. Tuesdays starting Sept. 20.
Enter Nicolette’s sister Gigi (Beth Ditto), who has been feuding with her sibling but now joins her in the spirit of conciliation, creating a lovely and powerful duet. It’s such a nice moment — but then an invisible band kicks in, and we’re wondering how and why, and we’re taken out of the moment and once again reminded that while “Monarch” might aspire to be “Yellowstone” with country music, the execution of the storylines is actually closer to “Empire.”
This is the opposite of a gritty, realistic, down-to-Earth drama. If you’re up for some comfort-viewing escapism with a steady diet of predictable and implausible albeit entertainingly cheesy twists straight out of the daytime soap-opera playbook, here ya go. Just know this is the kind of series where someone just always happens to be in the right spot to catch someone else doing something they shouldn’t be doing, and in just about every episode, somebody’s gonna be hurling a glass of whiskey at the wall or cocking a gun or blackmailing somebody or double-crossing someone else. Oooh, the scheming!
“Monarch” has some true star power at the top of the bill, with Oscar winner Susan Sarandon doing wonderful work as the Roman family matriarch, Dottie, the “Queen of Country Music,” and country star Trace Adkins lending his baritone growl and bulky-Kristofferson presence to the role of Dottie’s husband Albie, who hasn’t had a hit in 10 years because he hasn’t changed with the times. Nicolette is the heir apparent to the throne, while little sister Gigi, who might actually have a bigger voice than Nicky, has put her career on the back burner to concentrate on living a quiet life with her wife Kayla (Meagan Holder). The third sibling, brother Luke (Joshua Sasse), manages the family business and is forever seeking Daddy’s approval. (Good luck with that.)
We’re introduced to a variety of supporting players (by my count, there are three, wait make it four, Generically Handsome, Dark-Haired White Guys in the cast) who get mixed up in all sorts of intrigue, with tons of flashbacks taking place “THREE MONTHS EARLIER” or many years ago. (In a nice touch, Sarandon’s daughter, Eva Amurri, plays the young Dottie.) Adkins as Albie sings some great covers, including “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and “Friends in Low Places,” and “Monarch” also dives into “Glee” territory, as when Gigi sings Gaga’s “Born This Way” in an elaborate production number, or when Nicky’s son Ace (Inigo Dominic Pascual) and aspiring star Ana (Emma Milani) cover Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar.”
Wouldn’t surprise me a bit if “Monarch” becomes a hit — but it’ll be like one of those sanitized, country-rock, overproduced chart-toppers. Catchy and slick, more about the toe-tapping and the easy hooks than true heart.