Just to summarize the familiar tunes on display, “Monarch” — which will debut after an eight-month delay, after Fox’s NFL coverage moved to its regular Monday time slot — begins with a flash-forward that features a dead body, and a Flashback showing arson fire. And that’s all in the first three minutes.
Still, the hits keep coming, as the show depicts the fractured relationship of country music’s first family, Roman matriarch Dottie (Susan Sarandon) and her husband Albie (Trace Adkins), both of whom are established stars. Nikki (“Anna Friel” of “Pushing Daisies”) longs for a level of stardom that has so far eluded her.
“I’ve been preparing for this moment my whole life,” Nicky says when given the chance to shine, but of course, it comes amid a family crisis that also opens up problems for her sister Gigi (Beth Ditto), out of the spotlight; and brother Luke (Joshua Sasse), who essentially manages the family’s business interests.
Created by screenwriter Melissa London Hilfers, “Monarch” captures the usual family feuds and secrets, calculated to reveal what happened at the beginning of the story, teasing the “how to get away with murder” style.
Yet it’s all mired in familiar soap-opera flourishes, where when a character tries to stop a potential sexual encounter by saying “it’s wrong,” it’s a sure-fire sign they’re going. Go ahead and do it anyway. Indeed, there are so many country clichés, the biggest shock may be that the drama isn’t built around a rodeo sequence until the fourth episode.
As noted, the setting creates opportunities for the likes of Shania Twain to pop in during the first episode (Martina McBride and Tanya Tucker will appear later), and Sarandon to play the regal “queen” of the country.
That said, Sarandon fills a relatively tame role, and even in ensemble context it’s primarily Friel’s show, with Adkins delivering most of her lines in a cranky, bear-like growl. (As a footnote, Sarandon’s daughter, Eva Amory, appears as Dottie in flashbacks, reflecting that this is a family affair in more ways than one.)
As the premise makes clear, “Monarch” doesn’t seek to reinvent the wheel, but simply wraps the rich-family soap template in a slightly different package, decked out with country values, sequins and an assortment of cowboy hats.
A country-hungry crowd might be prepared for a rather thin offering, with the understanding that when it comes to drama series built around family dynasties, “Monarch” won’t be anyone’s first rodeo.
“Monarch” premieres September 11 at 8 pm ET (after football) on Fox.