Everything may be bigger in Texas, but 9-1-1: Lone Star isn't trying to outsize its parent show, 9-1-1. In fact, the spin-off, which introduces a new Austin-based team of first responders, is an intentionally tighter and tamer version of the disaster procedural. The scale of calamities to come will still echo the formula that made the L.A.-centered original such a standout of the broadcast scene — that is, big natural catastrophes blended with very WTF moments — but in the first two episodes screened for press, the focus of Lone Star is more upon its kaleidoscope of characters than what they're dealing with in the process of day-saving.
The series stars Rob Lowe as Capt. Owen Strand, a fire chief who is recruited to rebuild a station after nearly the entire force is lost in a tragic explosion — a task he has experience with after most of his own NYC unit was lost at Ground Zero on 9/11. In addition to his own son TK (Ronen Rubinstein), a gay man who is struggling with heartbreak and addiction and could use a change of scenery, Strand employs a fresh crew to represent modern America: a devout Muslim and badass rescuer named Marjan Marwani (Natacha Karam); a trans man named Paul Strickland (Brian Michael Smith); and a promising rookie named Mateo Chavez (Julian Works).
9-1-1 has long featured a diverse cast of characters and certainly deals with difficult social issues, but here in Lone Star, the intentionality of its inclusion is more overt and spoken to. Even the guy who first seems to be a local yokel, lone survivor Judd Ryder (Jim Parrack), is married to a black dispatcher named Grace Ryder (Sierra Aylina McClain). No one can be painted with broad strokes, and to anyone accusing the show of trying to be woke, 9-1-1: Lone Star is enthusiastically nodding and smiling that yes, that is exactly what's happening. And while an early episode does seize on the opportunity to condemn hate — giving a bigoted character the point-and-stare treatment as our prism of heroes stand proud — the show is also careful not to make a mockery of its titular locale. All the salooning, horseback riding, cowboy hatting, and barbacoa is a celebration of Texas' culture. As the second episode's title declares, "Yee-haw!"
Rounding out the cast is Liv Tyler as Michelle Blake, a chief paramedic with a heart that bleeds for the underprivileged and her missing sister, whose disappearance is still a mystery to her and a friend on the police force, Carlos Reyes (Rafael Silva). Right away, she arrives as something of a foil for Strand, reminding him that he's not the boss of every uniformed department in Austin now. However, there's also some clear chemistry between them, and since they're both single to mingle — and line dance! — the potential for the long-game love story is obvious.
Fans of the OG 9-1-1 will take heart that its progeny is not trying to be a rote duplicate. Yes, there's still a familiarity to the way 9-1-1: Lone Star abruptly breaks off into the most bonkers calls imaginable, but the spectacle seems to be secondary to what's happening within the station itself as these new first responders discover themselves and each other. The mood is also a bit lighter, despite some weighty issues at hand (PTSD, cancer, and bigotry, oh my), which makes those little brushes with danger fun and even a bit energizing. Surely, things will get more intense and depressing as the series presses on, but for now? 9-1-1: Lone Star is a relatively feel-good series that offers an array of inclusion and optimism... even when its heroes are pulling babies out of trees.
9-1-1: Lone Star premieres Sunday, Jan. 19 following the NFC Championship football game (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT), before airing its second episode in its regular time slot on Monday, Jan. 20 at 8/7c.
TV Guide rating: 3.5/5