Thursday, February 6, 2020
TV Watch: 911 - Lone Star
Sometimes when you're making network TV, not a goddamn person can be bothered to try.
I mean, I get it. No one expects any actual effort, and it doesn't pay any more to do a fully-assed job when a half-assed job is probably going to fulfill the needs of far more of the TV viewing audience, and they'll find it less challenging, anyway.
These days, network TV - which used to be all CSI, lawyer and hospital shows - is now littered with shows about emergency response and dads who are serial killers. I don't watch any of these shows, but respect them because they often give a steady paycheck to actors I kinda like who aren't still in the movie game. Give them enough seasons, and those actors can semi-retire and do whatever it is people formerly on TV do. Try and appear on The Masked Singer, I guess.
In the last year or two, Fox debuted 911, a show about emergency response in Los Angeles. I think Connie Britton briefly appeared on the show, as well as Angela Basset, but even those two powerful forces did not combine to get me to tune in.
Well, I guess 911 is doing okay, because they just launched a spin-off called 911: Lone Star, about a Rob Lowe who was a firefighter who saw his whole squad killed on 9/11. He's got some PTSD, some cancer and he's moved to my hometown of Austin, Texas to run the world's schmanciest firehouse alongside his adult son - a rare admission of age appropriateness from Lowe.
Austin is a minor film industry town, but even less so these days as our Trump-hugging state leadership has decided not to incentivize the left-leaning film industry to actually produce movies here any more. We've let other states keep and build upon tax incentives and enjoy the bags of money that come along with film production. But you do see the occasional indie movie or Nissan commercial shot here. But not, stupendously, 911: Lone Star, which supposedly takes place here in Austin, TX.
Friends - Do you know there is something called "Google"? Well, no one working at 911: Lone Star knows this.
Pretty clearly the entire notion of the show is built upon someone's SXSW visit from 2010 and kind of vaguely remembering stories in the news that must have taken place in Texas at some point. But, man, after something so specific and more than occasionally dead-on accurate as Friday Night Lights filming in Austin and creating the weird imaginary Central/ West Texas town of Dillon, with all it's hyper-specific accuracy (they shopped at HEB!), it's strange to see a show that gives so few @#$%'s in regards to any knowledge of the location of the show, you have to just assume they kind of just hold everything about Austin and/ or Texas in contempt. Also, the laws of nature, physics, effective character development and storytelling.
I've only seen the third episode of the show, but it opens on a house being pummeled by a tornado as kids hide in the tub and dad tries to retrieve a cat from under the bed.
Do we get tornadoes in Austin? Sort of. Would we be caught by surprise at the last second? Probably not. Everyone has a cell phone and the slightest bit of weather starts making them blow up well in advance. Do we have tornado sirens? Maybe? I've never heard them, but if we did, they'd all likely be in town and north of the river. Not outside of town.
As a dramatic shot, we get the firehouse gang standing outside the firehouse looking at the city skyline (not Austin) where multiple giant funnel clouds are coming down.
Cool! That would be horrifying and amazing! But, look, those tornadoes were HUGE. And more than one! Also, every fire fighter in that place would be freaking out well before that because their phones would be blowing up and they'd all have turned to local weather (I'm a KVUE man), to find out what was what and stand around with their arms folded. THAT IS HOW WE DO. We do not all go outside in tornado weather and we KNOW, man.
But, for reasons I don't entirely understand having to do with atmospheric anomalies and lots of concrete, you don't really get tornadoes in a downtown area all that often. Outside of town? Sure. Between Austin and Dallas on the I-35 corridor? Absolutely. And I am pretty sure someone had the tragedy in Jarrell in mind when they wrote this episode.*
Mary Kay Place plays the mother of Liv "I'm gonna just whisper everything, okay?" Tyler, who talks about a cooking class she's taking in the "Warehouse District" of Austin. Which... I think for a brief window around 2010-ish, someone tried to call the transitioning area around second street "The Warehouse District", because from the 1970's - 2002ish, there were a lot of abandoned warehouses in the area where I may or may not have gone to a party or three. But those warehouses were all torn down for skyscraper condos and now we just call it "you know, down around Second Street". She also struggles with "Oaxacan" as a word, which is possible, even for a longtime Austinite, but you'd be what the kids call "basic" and would have not eaten out at a good number of our local restaurants. Still kudos to anyone attempting mole. I'm not cook enough to do it.
Two things then happen -
They showed a weather map of the severe weather, but here's the thing, it's coming from the wrong direction. Their weather map shows a front coming in from the gulf. In theory, we could get a tornado from a hurricane blowing in from the gulf, but that's more of a Houston thing. Our tornadoes form when a front comes in from the north hard and fast and runs smack into a bubble of high pressure that's just been sitting here, and the two duke it out. It's usually a straight line coming in to Austin from the northwest. Voila. Tornadoes. This one was HIGHLY Google-able
But I think they accidentally Googled "hurricane weather":
The second item is the hapless Uber driver who gets picked up by a tornado and thrown, finding her car swept up by a tornado and dumped gently between two buildings where it's wedged about forty feet above the street.
Look, I'l give the show artistic license that she tries to outrun the tornado in her car, sure. Why not? But the 911 call is amazing. "I was on Brazos Street".
I have lived here since 1984, and no one has ever used the phrase "Brazos Street". Ever. She uses it twice. I had to check to make sure it was a "street" and not an "avenue".
I am pretty sure the car hanging between buildings was inspired by this Charlie Brown from a few years back. And, uh, look, weird things happen in a tornado - but that lady would have been dead or mostly dead getting chucked around that part of town. Likely she would have been tossed into the side of a condo building or hotel. But an F-anything in that part of town would kill hundreds. Just FYI. There's not an hour of the day when there aren't people working or playing down there, or staying in a hotel.
That's just the first few minutes.
Realizing Austin doesn't actually have any heavy industry and is mostly government workers, university employees and folks working in technology, commercials for prior and upcoming episodes have decided that Austin is also an agrarian town (we are not) catering to the cattle and farm chemical industries. And, I get it - you need literal explosions. And it turns out that's hard to come by in office buildings full of people sitting in front of keyboards.
Look, I get it. It's a TV show. They have to spice it up. Heck, the 911 call center is going to look like a luxury spa with oddly sexy operators and not a low-bid government contract room full of county employees.
On top of this, the show is very, very, very bad. The 911 calls are ridiculous, everything's melodramatic, characters seem like they're basically talking points with good skin and biceps. Everything is simplified to the point that your oldest living relative can follow along. Which, you know, whatever, but you get how people in middle-America get their expectations handed back to them on a plate by television, and how that doesn't really help anyone.
I think they would have been happier setting this in Waco.
* I have a story about me, my brother, Jamie, Cici's Pizza, the Disney movie The Black Hole and the last time I got black-out drunk tied to this event. But that's a tale for another day.