Stream it or skip it: ‘Monarch’ on TBEN, where Susan Sarandon leads a country music dynasty in turmoil


If you’ve been complaining about outrageous music-based soap operas ever since… Empire ended, TBEN may have just what you need, albeit in a different genre. Monarch is about a country music dynasty and how much control her matriarch had over it. That matriarch is played by none other than Susan Sarandon.


Opening shot: A man in a cowboy hat opens a gun cabinet and takes out a shotgun. He drives to a wooded area in his vintage pickup truck. “A Roman never forgets a friend…or an enemy,” he says just before firing.

The core: Three months earlier, Albie Roman (Trace Adkins) was at a press conference with his wife, Dottie Cantrell Roman (Susan Sarandon). She receives a Lifetime Achievement Award at the CMAs. During the press conference, a reporter asks Dottie about a report that she is terminally ill. Albie responds by punching the reporter out.

But the report was not wrong; Dottie is dying, though she looks healthy and robust and seems to have several months to live, and she is making plans about the legacy she will leave behind. First, there is her legacy as a performer; she tells her oldest daughter, Nicolette (Anna Friel) that she’s ready to finally step out of her shadow, she’s still not getting any interest as a solo act apart from her parents. Younger daughter Gigi (Beth Ditto) is more interested in motherhood and running her bar with wife Kayla (Meagan Holder).

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Most importantly, the family’s record label, Monarch Records; she chose her son Luke (Joshua Sasse) as CEO of the company herself, a choice Albie was never up for. After the CMA Awards, a huge family concert is coming up, which Dottie sees as her last hurray, so she asks Nicky to do something Nicky is totally against after the concert.

Photo: TBEN

What shows will it remind you of? Monarch is actually Empire, but just in a different music genre. It’s definitely pulpier and soapier than Nashville ever been.

Our opinion: Monarch, created by Melissa London Hilfers with Jon Feldman as showrunner, was supposed to premiere in January, but TBEN decided to pull it at the last minute and hold it until the fall season. We don’t think it was because of quality issues, but because of the fact that they had a soap-like show with broad appeal. However, after watching the first few episodes, we wonder if they had any issues with the show.

First, let’s get Susan Sarandon’s question out of the way: Has she really committed to being a main cast member on a network series? That usually requires a multi-year commitment for 22 episodes per year. She doesn’t seem to be at the stage of her career to make such a commitment. Well, without revealing anything, that question will be answered for you at the end of the first episode, and if you think about it, it will make a lot of sense.

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But Sarandon dominates the first episode, and it’s pretty shocking to see the Oscar winner in scenes with everyone but Friel. Adkins actually growls and growls through his role as a family patriarch, and Ditto and Sasse are much more melodramatic than Sarandon. Friel, whose Texan accent feels so effortless that you begin to forget she’s British, is the only one who stands her ground with Sarandon’s dominant presence.

It’s pretty clear that the show will really run through Friel, as her character struggles with aging, her chance of breaking out with her own career, a husband who constantly cheats on her, and the real possibility that she may never get out of her way. her mother’s shadow. Her story is really the one thing that really has more depth than your standard late-night soap operas, from the kids seeking approval from their parents to illicit romances to nefarious business practices. The possibility that Sarandon’s presence won’t be nearly as dominant after the first episode means that what’s left is getting pretty shallow and exhausting.

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That said, we’ve seen Yellowstone drive this formula to massive hit status in recent years, so maybe TBEN knew what it was doing when it held off the show for 8 months.

Gender and skin: It’s a network show, so it talks about every gender or skin, but very subdued.

Farewell Shot: Three months later, back to that wooded area. Albie digs a hole and pushes a body into it. “Rest in peace,” he sneezes, throwing dirt on the body to fill the hole.

Sleeping star: It’s clear that Ditto is in the cast because of her amazing voice, which can be seen during the family concert scene.

Most Pilot-y-line: “He’s lucky he’s not currently sucking crumpets through a straw,” Gigi says after Nicky tells her her husband is cheating on her again (he’s British, you know…).

Our call: SKIP IT. Monarch is a soap opera that is all suds and no substance, and its most immersive character may have the least screen time going forward.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and technology, but he’s not kidding himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon,, VanityFair.comFast