Roush Review: ‘Monarch’ Sings a Familiar Country Tune

Susan Sarandon and Trace Adkins in Monarch

Who knows a country music diva better than their stylist? Sure enough, it’s the hairdresser (Kevin Cahoon) who nails the potential of Fox’s soapy Monarch when he quips, “People like a little Game of Thrones with their country music.” If only.

Hoping to do for the network what Empire did in the hip-hop arena, the show feels more like a tired Nashville knockoff if that ABC series had begun with Connie Britton already one foot out the door. Monarch places its “first damn family of country music” in Texas, a land of cheating hearts and dark secrets. Not to mention toxic sibling rivalry, which escalates when matriarch Dottie Roman (Susan Sarandon) goes public with her diagnosis of terminal cancer, setting in motion a heap of sisterly squabbling for the crown Dottie is leaving behind.

Beth Ditto and Anna Friel in Monarch


“This ain’t show family, it’s show business,” warns Aunt Nellie (an underused Faith Prince), who’s long lived in her sister’s shadow, just like Dottie’s daughters: the heir apparent Nicky (Anna Friel, mostly rising above the dour melodrama) and the upstart outlier, Gigi (Beth Ditto), a dressed-down lesbian who favors Lizzo and Lady Gaga in her rebellious musical choices. (Monarch’s soundtrack is an odd mix of original songs and random covers.) The betrayals and backstabbing that comes with the dynastic territory are all there, but the temperature rarely rises in this tepid bath of very familiar suds.

It might help if the show’s big daddy, Albie Roman, weren’t such a lump. Trace Adkins, an authentic country star, has presence on stage, but his guttural growl in dramatic scenes has the power of a half-baked potato. To be fair, almost no one’s heart really seems to be into the old-school machinations of the plot, which includes the framing device of an apparent murder and cover-up that takes three months (and six episodes) to catch up to.

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Susan Sarandon, Trace Adkins, Anna Friel, and more star in the Fox series that feels like a cross between 'Yellowstone,' 'Nashville,' and 'Empire.'

Some of the twists you can see coming from the next state, most notably the arrival of a rising young star (Emma Melani) who arrives from Albuquerque with scheming stage mother (Martha Higareda) attached. More fun are the cameos by true country-music royalty including Martina McBride, Tanya Tucker, and especially good sport Shania Twain, who’s asked to pretend that Dottie stole “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” from her back in the day. Now there’s a show I’d like to see.

Monarch, Series Premiere, Sunday, September 11, 8/7c, Fox (regular time period Tuesday, 9/8c, starting September 20)