9-1-1: Lone Star is one of the worst shows I’ve ever sat through and also one of the most delightful. What it lacks in character development, plot, acting, and writing, it makes up for with absolutely bonkers, wild shit. A couple of weeks ago, a body fell out of a plane and landed on a coffin mid-burial.
For the uninitiated, Lone Star is a Texas-themed spinoff of 9-1-1, the Fox TV series that follows the lives of first responders in Los Angeles. Lone Star is basically the same, only there’s an occasional drone shot of downtown Austin. Rob Lowe stars as captain Owen Strand, a firefighter and 9/11 first responder who moved to Austin, Texas, with his firefighter son to rebuild the 126 after a tragic manure explosion—per the age-old equation, “bonkers shit + Texas = manure explosion”—killed nearly its entire crew. Sounds simple enough, right? It’s not. Lone Star is crammed with plot and characters, each of whom have their own backstory. In Season 2, Owen reconnects with his ex-wife during quarantine; his son, TK, considers a potential career change; and the other members of the 126 navigate, among other things, a dissolving arranged marriage, a bad tattoo, the stressors of losing or returning to work during the pandemic, and mending strained relationships with family. But that’s not why we’re here. We’re here for the role players—the bit parts that drive Lone Star and make it one of the most entertaining shows on the air.
Multiple times during each episode, the dedicated firefighters and paramedics of the 126 respond to emergencies. These aren’t your everyday gas leaks, fires, or EMS calls—there are kids with Hot Wheels stuck up their nose, fires at flammable bull semen factories, and mercury-laced sandwiches that zombify employees and cause them to jump out of their office building. And that’s just in Season 1. Somehow, Season 2 ups the ante with wildfires and volcanos that rip through Austin’s streets during brunch. (Ted Cruz, presumably, is in Cancún during all of this.)
These interstitial 911 calls are the engine and lifeblood of Lone Star. For all the random plot twists and Rob Lowe skincare jokes, the show is at its most fun when concocting elaborate emergencies and action sequences. And like any central star or group, Strand and his crew need role players. In Lone Star, the role players are the characters who get that toy car stuck in their nose, or who eat the mercury sandwich before jumping to their death. They appear for one scene and dial the drama all the way up to 11 before being relegated to the annals of IMDb.
These characters deserve more. The real heroes are the everyday people who [checks notes] poorly time the scattering of their friends’ ashes during a gust of wind, inhale said ashes, and require medical intervention to save their life. The best role players find themselves in impossible situations, but still find ways to let their personalities shine through and make the scene their own. These absurd characters walked so the members of the 126 could run, and we will give them their due. Without further delay, a ranking of the 12 best role players in Season 2 of 9-1-1: Lone Star.
12. Idiot Gets Caught in a Volcano
It’s hard not to feel bad for someone whose skin gets pulled off their arm after a volcano erupts in the pool they’re swimming in, but this guy approaches that feat. A cocky college student is hanging out in a hot tub with a woman whom he calls a “four” and asks, “Do you want another drink? … Can you get me one too?” Joke’s on him, because she does get out of the pool for a refill and that’s exactly when A VOLCANO erupts beneath him.
11. The Lost Nurse With an MRI Mishap
A nurse has been reassigned from the pediatric ward due to COVID, but can’t find his way around the other areas of the hospital. As a result, he accidentally wheels a patient into an in-process MRI, where the force of the magnetic field pulls them into the air and traps them against an MRI machine. All role players serve a purpose; in this case, it seems to be forcing the 126 to strip before entering the room so they don’t have to worry about the magnet.
10. You Can’t Do the Heimlich on Zoom
Lone Star tries really hard to reflect the current moment. This includes shoehorning in references to social distancing and masking up at every opportunity. (I normally turn to TV shows about volcanic eruptions in central Texas for a break from reality, but I guess someone has to tell people to wear masks.) So, it makes sense that one of the season’s first 911 call scenes begins on Zoom. Our poor hero is eating a sandwich during a work meeting when he begins to choke. Because he’s on mute, his coworkers don’t notice what’s happening until he collapses at his desk, at which point they call 911. “I think my friend just died, but he’s on mute so I can’t tell.”
9. Mini Golf Dad Meets the Devil
In the season’s second episode, an unsuspecting family enjoys a mini golf outing. After missing a putt, the father suddenly breaks down and begins to smash the hole’s prop, a devil’s head with its tongue out, with his club. Once he calms down, he explains to his mortified wife for the first time that COVID has devastated his real-estate career and that they are about to lose their house. She is surprisingly supportive and pulls him in for an embrace. But just then, the ground shakes beneath them, a hole opens up, and the father falls in.
Enter the 126. When Strand and his crew arrive on the scene, the father is well below the Earth’s surface, inside a volcanic fissure. They rappel down to pull him out only to realize his skin has literally melted onto the plastic devil’s head. With time running out, they’re forced to yank him out—unfortunately, not all of his skin makes the trip with him. It’s gross. While the scene ranks highly on the Bonkers Meter, there’s less room in the scene for the character to truly spread his wings. Still, the lesson rings true: If you let your stressors and emotions bottle up, they’ll eventually erupt. A bit heavy-handed, but OK.
8. Impaled at the Roller Derby
“Betty Bad Wheels” is finally making her return to the rink after a long absence due to injury when everything goes horribly wrong. A broken floor board is unfortunately protruding right in the middle of a roller derby pileup, and Betty’s teammate Tonya falls on top of it. It goes all the way through her stomach.
One just hopes the Annihilators can recover.
7. Bear Trap Kid
I feel bad for this kid. On an Outward Bound–type solo adventure, he gets caught in a bear trap—while a wildfire is simultaneously raging. When the 126 finally locates him and arrives on the scene, he is in bad shape, physically and emotionally. The kid doesn’t seem interested in fighting to survive. As the crew tends to his wounds and tries to keep him alert, he just mumbles, “This is what I deserve,” and “just like my father said,” which feels like a whole lot of projection.
But he’s just setting the perfect stage for a motivational speech. He’s throwing an alley-oop, and the 126’s Judd Ryder is happy to oblige. But words can do only so much, and here’s where the kid makes the leap from solid role player to memorable one. As Ryder hits the climax of his speech, he straight-up slaps this kid in the face and jolts him back to life.
Few role players combine such extreme circumstances with such raw emotion—we’ll remember Bear Trap Kid for a long time.
6. Austin, Texas
How many overhead shots of downtown does it take to establish that a show takes place in Austin? The answer is directly proportional to how obvious it is that the show is shot in L.A. For Lone Star, that means a lot of overhead shots.
The show works extremely hard to let viewers know it takes place in Austin; this includes forced references to South by Southwest, Texas Monthly, and other local flavor. This qualifies Austin as a role player—it’s rarely actually in the show, but it’s never allowed to get too far out of mind. I particularly want to shout out the mini golf course (the location of the previously mentioned devil’s head), which is ostensibly located in south Austin but just serves as a reminder that most role players have limited responsibilities for a reason.
Ah yes, the beautiful hill country of central Texas.
5. Stop, Guac, and Roll
The purveyor of the Guac and Roll vegan Tex-Mex food truck is doing inventory when she realizes her kitchen has been inundated with scorpions, which are running away from the volcanic eruption that’s taking place right outside Guac and Roll’s window—also a problem. While the action isn’t as over-the-top as in some of the other scenes on this list, the resourceful restaurateur is a quality role player for having the wherewithal to deliver lines like, “Yes, scorpions. Like the water sign!” and being able to rattle off her entire menu under duress before she fends off the scorpions by spraying cilantro vinaigrette.
4. Owen Strand Gets His Tiananmen Square Moment
A grieving veteran who just lost his daughter steals a military tank with the intent of driving it into a veterans hospital. He doesn’t have much screen time or even many lines. But this is the ultimate and most ridiculous case of setting up your stars, which is enough to vault our tank driver up this list. The only person who can stop this man is Captain Strand, who delivers a rousing and empathetic speech before stopping the tank in the most absurd, and low-key offensive, way possible.
Just being part of such a historic moment is good for fourth on this list.
3. A Bizarre Love Triangle
These role players belong in a one-act tragicomedy. At a wedding reception, the best man is leading a toast to the groom and bride—whom he seems to be seriously in love with and not very good at hiding it—when he vomits all over the happy couple. Next thing you know, most of the guests, plus the bride and groom, begin throwing up uncontrollably. “It’s worse than the Red Wedding!” someone yells.
Pandemonium ensues. Guests are running around and knocking things over—the entire tent that the wedding is happening in comes crashing down and falls on the groom. The 126 arrives at the scene and deduces the cause of the mass vomiting spree: bad fish that was served to guests. The paramedics begin to work on freeing the groom when confusion sets in. The bride is a vegetarian who doesn’t eat fish … so why did she vomit? It turns out that she is pregnant, but this revelation only adds to the groom’s confusion and leads to the final, ultimate twist. The couple was saving themselves for marriage—and the bride was sleeping with the best man!
These characters appeared for one scene, vomited all over each other, and had their wedding ruined by the powerful combination of food poisoning and revelations of a best man–bride-groom love triangle. That’s what we call thriving in a limited role.
2. The Conjoined Twins
One way to make the most of a limited role is by playing two parts. The no. 2 spot on this list goes to a pair of conjoined twins; one is choking on peanut butter and the other is trying to save him. The pair is connected at the head, which makes it impossible for one to administer the Heimlich to the other, so he calls 911. But the 126 won’t get there in time.
At Grace’s instruction, the non-choking twin crawls across the floor to the vacuum, dragging his twin behind him. Along the way, he explains that he and his twin brother are semi-estranged, despite their close connection. He even gets to utter the line, “You wouldn’t know by looking at us,” [pause] “but we’re not that close.” When he reaches the vacuum, he uses the long attachment to suck the peanut butter out of his brother’s throat. I can’t overstate what a marvel this scene is. This one small part combines the drama of a near-death experience with the unlikely scenario of conjoined twins with the emotional spectrum of two brothers reconnecting. When it comes to role players, there’s not much more you can ask for.
1. The “Imp”
This is the part role players dream of. The scene starts off with 911 operator Grace, who is part of Lone Star’s core cast. When she answers the phone, the caller introduces himself as “Imp” and explains his rather unusual situation: His dominatrix, who gave him the Imp moniker, was attacked by a swarm of bees from inside her wall—and she’s allergic. She has collapsed and can’t reach or administer her EpiPen. Grace obviously tells Imp to retrieve it. Here, the camera cuts from the call center to the dominatrix, passed out on the floor, and then pans up to Imp right as he says, “See, that’s the problem. I’m a little tied up right now.”
The scene gets even more wild. Grace instructs Imp to untie himself by dislocating his shoulder and slipping out of the knots. “I can’t!” he responds. “I don’t come here to be frightened, I come here to be humiliated!” So Grace, an absolute paragon of creativity and resourcefulness, does what any 911 operator would: She assumes the dominatrix role over the phone, accosting Imp while guiding him through the shoulder dislocation and the administration of the EpiPen, which saves Imp’s mistress’s life.
Imp is a legend, but Grace is a hero.