‘Monarch’ review: Fox tries ‘Empire’ with a country twist with Susan Sarandon and Anna Friel


If ever a show had its “elevator pitch” written on its cover, it was Fox’s “Monarch”, which was fairly transparently marketed as “‘Empire’, but with country music!” This backdrop opens up obvious possibilities — starting with a slate of country cameos — but it can’t get that family drama off the ground, or feel any fresher than another iteration of a song “She made me feel bad.” wrong”.

Just to sum up the familiar tune on display, “Monarch” — which, after an eight-month delay, will be introduced after Fox’s NFL coverage before moving to its regular Monday timeslot — begins with a flash-forward that involves a dead body, and a flashback showing arson. And that’s all in the first three minutes.

Yet the hits keep coming, as the series illustrates the contentious relationship between country music’s first family, the Romans, with star matriarch Dottie (Susan Sarandon) and husband Albie (Trace Adkins). establishments, while his daughter Nicky (“Pushing Daisies” Anna Friel) aspires to a level of stardom that has so far eluded her.

“I’ve been preparing for this moment my whole life,” Nicky says when presented with an opportunity to shine, but of course it comes amid a family crisis that also spells trouble for her sister Gigi (Beth Ditto), who stayed out of the spotlight; and his brother Luke (Joshua Sasse), who essentially manages the family’s business interests.

Created by screenwriter Melissa London Hilfers, “Monarch” contains the usual family feuds and secrets, teasing the latter, “How to get away with murder” style, counting down to reveal what happened when the story began.

Still, it’s all steeped in all-too-familiar soap operas, to the point that when one of the characters tries to shut down a possible sexual encounter by saying, “That’s wrong,” it’s a pretty sure clue that they’re going to go- y and do it anyway. Indeed, there are so many country cliches that the biggest shocker might be that there’s no drama built around a rodeo sequence until the fourth episode.

As noted, the setting creates the opportunity for Shania Twain to appear during early episodes (Martina McBride and Tanya Tucker will appear later), and for Sarandon to play the imperious “queen” of the country.

That said, Sarandon fills a relatively modest role, and even in the context of the set, it’s mostly Friel’s spectacle, with Adkins delivering most of his lines in a grumpy, bear-like growl. (As a footnote, Sarandon’s daughter, Eva Amurri, 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 set out to reinvent the wheel, but rather simply wraps the wealthy family’s soap model in a slightly different wrapper, topped with an assortment of standard of country, sequins and cowboy hats.

A country-seeking crowd might be up for that rather thin ride, with the understanding that when it comes to serialized dramas built around family dynasties, “Monarch” won’t be anyone’s first rodeo.

“Monarch” premieres Sept. 11 at 8 p.m. ET (after football) on Fox.