Dottie Roman and Elizabeth II had a lot in common, you know.
Both were queens – one of country music, the other of the British empire. Both will remain visible – one via flashbacks, the other via stamps and money and such. And both planned their own funerals.
The differences are also important, of course:
— Dottie is fictional, portrayed by Susan Sarandon(shown here, center) in “Monarch,” at 9 p.m. Tuesdays on Fox. Elizabeth, we’re told, was real.
— At her funeral, Dottie suddenly soared above the stage – a giant, holographic image, singing powerfully. Elizabeth didn’t … but it would have been really cool if she did.
That moment came in the second episode (Sept. 20), after Dottie, dying of cancer, committed suicide in the opener. The funeral was “Monarch” in its essence. “It’s a very soapy, over-the-top, fun, dramatic show,” said Jason Owen, one of the producers.
Melissa Hilfers, who created it, compares it to “classic, larger-than-life soaps like ‘Dallas’ and ‘Dynasty’ and now ‘Succession.’ These folks live in a larger-than-life, beautiful, glamorous world.”
Another writer-producer, Jon Feldman, says it’s “a little bit like ‘Empire’ meets ‘Succession,’ but set in the world of country music.”
That last part was the suggestion of Fox executives. They’d had a strong run with the R-&-B-infused “Empire,” including six seasons and several awards. Now they wanted to do the same with country.
The problem was that many people knew little about country. “I’ve smoked a joint with Willie Nelson,” Susan Sarandon, who plays Dottie, offered. (To which one is tempted to reply, “Well, who hasn’t?”)
One star, Anna Friel (who plays Nicky, Dottie’s daughter), is from England and has been quickly studying country stars. “I couldn’t believe that most of them arrived on a tour bus, did their performance, and then got back on a tour bus to go to the next performance,” she said.
Another, Inigo Pascual (who plays Nicky’s adopted son) is from the Philippines. “I barely had any knowledge of what country music is all about,” he said.
Clearly, the show needed some insiders. It got:
— Owen, an Arkansas native who is the talent manager for country stars, including Shania Twain (who appeared in the second episode), Faith Hill and Kelsea Ballerini.
— Trace Adkins, who plays Dottie’s widower, Albie. He’s country music’s biggest star, vertically (6-foot-6, two inches above Blake Shelton) and one of the biggest in sales. He’s also lived a country life that has includes several serious accidents and three ex-wives, one of whom shot him in the heart.
— Beth Ditto, who isn’t a country singer – she’s had success in indie-rock – but knows the turf. She grew up in Judsonia, an Arkansas town of 2,000. “I’m a trailer park gal,” she said. “It’s not like I have a college degree. My (accountant) told me one time, ‘You’re the only person I know that’s going to go broke on Walmart clothes.”
Ditto plays Gigi, who keeps a distance from her family’s country success. Her brother Luke (Joshua Sasse) runs the record company … Her sister Nicky (Friel) has ambition and beauty … Gigi has an awesome voice, but she’s a plus-size woman, in a genre where that’s rare.
These people – and newcomers – will collide in the 11-episode season … with the late Dottie looming large. “I’m Jiminy Cricket,” Sarandon said. “I’m going to appear on everybody’s shoulder.”
Adds Feldman: “She hovers over everyone; she influences everything.” Sort of like Elizabeth II, but with bigger hair and a louder voice.