There's a new first family of country music, and it's led by Susan Sarandon.
In Fox's Monarch, Sarandon plays Dottie Cantrell Roman, the matriarch of a powerful dynasty of icons who rule over the world of country music. Alongside her husband, Albie (Trace Adkins), her CEO son Luke (Joshua Sasse), and her talented daughters Nicky (Anna Friel) and Gigi (Beth Ditto), Dottie rules the genre and dominates the tabloid headlines. Or at least, she did — maybe. At the beginning of the premiere, it was revealed that Dottie had a terminal illness, and by the end, she was asking her daughter Nicky to help her kill herself, so she could die on her own terms. We saw her take the pills, and we saw Gigi arrive to see Nicky's involvement, but it's not yet entirely clear that Dottie's dead. She definitely did the deed, but killing off Sarandon's character in Episode 1 would be quite the shocking twist.
But that wasn't the only one. Three months into the future, Albie was digging a grave and throwing someone — potentially the same someone we saw him point a gun at in the episode's opening scene — into it. Who is he burying? Did he kill them?
So, is Dottie really dead? What are the "things that cannot be forgiven" that she was whispering about as the pills took effect? Is Sarandon just not in this show anymore? Those were just some of the questions that might be swirling around the heads of viewers after that premiere — though if those viewers are thinking too hard about it, a few others might include, Why do the Romans sing so many covers?" Are those covers in this universe?
Here, showrunner Jon Feldman gives Metacritic answers to all of these burning questions and more.
Dottie's desire to end her life now and the fact that she made Nicky participate is obviously extremely emotional. Is Nicky at least going to get some therapy?
I'll say this: The Romans are survivors, and as you'll see, the characters undergo quite a few trials and tribulations over the course of the season. And although challenged by them, I believe, at their core, they are characters that know how to survive. But what happens in the pilot is going to carry huge implications going forward, for not just Nicky, but for all the characters.
What can you say about Susan's role on the show going forward?
She appears in multiple episodes throughout the season, and the truth is that she influences the show even when she's not on screen. She's a huge part of the show who hovers over the actions of every character and really defines the arcs of quite a few of those characters.
Can you explain the country music world of this show and where this family fits in?
The Romans are, in our fictional universe, country music royalty. The decision was made to use covers to give them instant credibility as purveyors of music. We do have some originals that are sprinkled throughout the season, but the covers really, we felt, gave them that kind of imprimatur of hitmakers that we want for this family.
So, in the world of this show, did they sing those songs?
That's a heavily debated question in the writers' room. So, it really depends on who you ask, but I personally like to think of them as songs that exist that the Romans did the most famous version of. There's a theory even amongst Monarch writers that the Roman version is the only one that exists, but to wrap my head around it, I like the idea that they launched covers of these songs.
If the writers are having trouble deciding exactly how that works, does that ever cause trouble with plotting around the songs?
Well, there are originals and there are covers on the show. On a practical level, writing original music every episode is a really challenging undertaking that I wouldn't wish upon the world's greatest songwriters. So like I said, we internally talk about how this works, and for our purposes, the covers became hits for the Romans. They are part of their legacy, although when we talk about Dottie and Albie and their long history of awards and recording, in our mind, those are originals.
How many original songs will we get to hear?
We brought in some songwriters who work with Adam Anders, our executive producer who is a brilliant songwriter and producer. We decided that we were going to do four originals, sprinkled throughout the season. The title song, "The Card You Gamble," which will reprise in a future episode as a real story point, is an original song. Then later in the season, we have several originals. We try to use music to speak to the stories that our characters are undergoing, and the originals are part of that as well.
You've compared the show to Succession, which makes total sense given the sibling rivalry here, but Succession doesn't also have a murder mystery. Can you talk about balancing the family stuff with that aspect?
The murder mystery brings stakes and cliffhangers which are really important for a nighttime drama like this one. But I'll say this: the murder mystery and the stories involving the family are really wrapped up together. So, the murder mystery will soon enough impact the entire family.
So this family could potentially be dealing with a dead mom and a murderer dad?
I will say our goal is that as the show builds, more and more potential victims emerge, and hopefully by Episode 6, you're really guessing who's dead.
Would you say there are clues in the premiere? Should people be pulling out their murder boards?
I would say every episode has clues. I would say that the pilot has clues. Every episode adds to the story of the murder and what becomes a cover-up and the stakes of that, until we build and our timelines converge in a future episode where we see exactly what happened, we see why it happened, and we see how people are involved or not involved.
Unlike other shows, which sometimes don't reveal that stuff, we're going to flip that part. We're going to tell you who died and why, so if you watch, your viewership will pay off with answers. Of course our season will end with other questions, but the ones you're hopefully wondering about at this point will be given answers.
A popular argument around Succession is which of the siblings is the worst. Is that going to be a similar question here? Are they antiheroes?
I tend to believe that interesting characters are combinations of good and bad qualities. My hope is that even when our characters do unlikable things, our audience understands why they're doing it. I actually think our characters are, for the most part, inherently likable people, even if they make some questionable moral decisions at times. Hopefully, the audience is rooting for our characters to get their sh-- together and make the right decisions, as opposed to the wrong ones.
Monarch airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox beginning Sept. 20.