The thing about 9-1-1: Lonestar — the Texas-based, Rob Lowe starring spinoff of the aggressively wild Fox “in the premiere a Los Angeles firefighter chopped the head off of a giant snake with his fire ax” first responder series, 9-1-1 — is that you could start your discussion about its two-hour, two-night premiere almost anywhere.
You could start with the thing where a delivery guy got so fed up with tech bros stiffing him on tips that he poisoned their food with mercury and caused them to go mad and claw their skin off with kitchen utensils and leap through glass-paned walls to their deaths in the atrium of a fancy business center. You could start with Liv Tyler as a line-dancing EMT with a heart of gold who is also trying to solve her sister’s very mysterious murder. You could start with the car accident where a pregnant woman was saved from the wreckage and she promptly asked about the health of her baby, but she meant her other baby, the 10-month-old who was in a car seat in the back and was nowhere to be found and whoooooops the baby flew out of the car and was stuck 20-feet up in a tree, perfectly healthy, because why would you ever do anything less than the most in a Texas-based spinoff of 9-1-1?
I am going to start at the beginning, though. At the very beginning. I am going to tell you about the first 13 minutes of the series premiere and only the first 13 minutes of the series premiere. This feels right to me, both because the beginning is as good a place as any to start and because 9-1-1: Lonestar packed about two seasons of television into the amount of time it takes to make an omelet. It was incredible.
The first thing you need to know is that Rob Lowe starts the series as a Manhattan fire chief who is a nationwide hero after rebuilding his firehouse in the wake of 9/11 and who loves New York City. We know that first thing because other characters say so and we know the second thing because Rob Lowe literally says “I love New York.” Here, look.
Which brings us to the big question? How, exactly, does a 9/11 hero who loves New York end up in Texas? Well, it brings me great pleasure to inform you that the answer to that question — as well as the entire series — starts with this guy, a security guard at a facility in Austin who is so distracted by a University of Texas football game he is watching on his cell phone that he tosses his half-eaten burrito into the break room microwave with the aluminum foil still wrapped around it.
The burrito catches on fire. He panics and flings it into the trash can, which also catches on fire. Then this happens.
So now the whole break room is on fire. He calls it in and the Austin fire department shows up and proceeds to begin the process of fighting the fire, which has started to spread and has now engulfed most of the building. It’s going well, though. The hoses are hosing and the ladders are laddering and everything seems under control, until — and really, who couldn’t have seen this coming? — a second call comes in and reveals that the facility the firefighters are rushing into, the one currently blazing with white-hot burrito flames, the one the fire department has been at for a not-insignificant amount of time, actually produces fertilizer.
“But wait,” you say, wisely, like someone who has a fairly standard understanding of both chemistry and network television,” isn’t fertilizer, like, super flammable and explosive?”
The explosion kills every member of the on-scene Austin firehouse except for one man. That’s why Rob Lowe — whose character has a name, Captain Owen Strand, but whatever — is asked to come to Texas. Because he rebuilt a firehouse after 9/11, so they hope he can rebuild one after a Texas manure explosion. Sure, fine, of course. But he says no. Again, he loves New York. His mind is changed by a series of things I will now cover in bullet points, and please do remember that we are still inside the first 13 minutes of the first episode. We’re right around minute nine, to be specific. Here’s what happens in the next four minutes:
- Rob Lowe’s son, himself a firefighter, takes his boyfriend to dinner to propose
- The boyfriend reveals that he’s leaving Rob Lowe’s son for a SoulCycle instructor
- Rob Lowe’s son overdoses on painkillers
- Rob Lowe and his crew break down his son’s door and revive him with Narcan at the last minute
- Rob Lowe and his son have a heart-to-heart on a roof in which we learn that his son has struggled with opioid addiction in the past
- Rob Lowe makes the decision that he and his son are moving to Texas for a fresh start
- Also, and really, shame on me for not mentioning this earlier, Rob Lowe’s character was diagnosed with lung cancer, caused by the effects of working at Ground Zero, way back around minute five
It’s a remarkable feat of television production, honestly. When the show started, Rob Lowe was a healthy and happy New York City fireman with a son who was in a loving relationship with a longtime partner, and the Austin fire department was fully staffed and alive and protecting an area of Texas that included a working fertilizer plant. Less than 15 minutes later, Rob Lowe has cancer and his son relapsed and half a dozen firefighters are dead because of a surprise manure explosion and now he’s in Texas to try to deal with all of that. And it all started, everything, including everything that happens going forward, including Rob Lowe saving a baby that was launched 20 feet into a tree in a car crash, because of one flaming burrito.
I’m so proud of everyone involved.