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June 1, 2022

Why Rob Lowe’s Firefighter Character on “9-1-1: Lonestar” is the Masculine Role Model our World Needs.

“Did you use the last of my eye exfoliant?”

“You brought processed sugar into my firehouse?”

“You should try my hibiscus blister balm.”

“I don’t mess with my six-step skincare routine.”

“You should try the kale antioxidant salad. It’s the best!”

Admit it: You’re thinking that the above quotes are from some reality show or something a beauty blogger would say on their Instagram feed, right?

You’re thinking that this is a woman who is an expert on all things health and skincare. Maybe she’s a prima donna movie star who is yelling at her assistant for misplacing her myriad beauty products, all of which make her the sensational diva that she is.

Right?

Well, I wouldn’t blame you if you picked any of the above options. But if you did…you’d be wrong.

Yep. So wrong.

Because all of the above quotes come from a man. A straight man. A man who represents everything our society considers the epitome of rugged masculinity—a firefighter.

Is. Your. Mind. Blown?

I know mine was.

Meet Owen Strand, played by Rob Lowe, who’s the captain of a firehouse in downtown Austin on the TV show “9-1-1: Lonestar.” And yes, the quotes that I’ve pulled from the three seasons I’ve watched so far are the veritable tip of the iceberg. This extremely muscular, macho, and stunningly gorgeous man drops beauty tips like they’re going out of style.

And I love it.

Let me back up a little…

I was done with work ahead of time last week (and that’s saying something since I work two full-time jobs, seven days a week, and write and publish) and I wanted to watch something lighthearted. Not a sitcom or a comedy. I wanted to watch a drama, maybe episodic TV but nothing too dark, like “Ozark (which I’ve watched already, and it is fantastic). That’s when I chanced upon “9-1-1: Lonestar,” a show about firefighters who put their lives in danger every single day for the beautiful people of Texas.

I had no expectations from the show. I hadn’t watched the flagship show, simply called “9-1-1,” before but since this was a separate serialized show, it meant that there was no need to binge it and I could watch it whenever I had some free time. I also picked it because it felt like a pure popcorn, vanilla show fronted by the yummy Lowe. And after having watched his incredible comedic timing on “Parks and Recreation,” I figured I’d have some fun with this one. I simply hoped for Lowe’s eye candy to take my mind off the stress of the previous few weeks.

Before we get to Lowe and his extremely unique characterization, let’s talk about a show in which the supporting cast ticks off so many boxes on the diversity checklist:

Transgender man? Tick.

Muslim woman? Double tick.

A redneck Texan married to a gorgeous Black woman? Tick.

The lead firefighter’s gay son? Tick.

The gay son’s gorgeous Latino boyfriend? Tick.

And the list goes on.

Obviously, someone on the show felt like they needed to represent every minority group lest they get called out, and I, for one, love it. I’d much rather shows go overboard than not care at all.

So, after learning that not only would I get Lowe but also a diverse supporting cast, I felt good about my decision. But little did I know that the show hadn’t even scratched the surface of the things it would turn on its head for me.

Other than maybe a cowboy, is there any person in our culture who is more representative of the masculine ideal, of the rough and tough, give-zero-sh*ts-about-how-I-look persona than a firefighter? They of the jump-into-raging-flames-and-come out-alive-and-covered-in-soot variety? I’d say no.

So, imagine my shock when this TV show takes the epitome of masculinity—Rob Lowe as a firefighter—and makes him a skin care-obsessed, diet-controlled, metrosexual.

Lowe’s character is a self-confessed vain man, but not in an obnoxious sort of way. He has a six-step skincare routine that he tries to hard-sell to everyone in his fire station. He goes to a doctor who specializes in losing your hair and takes meds and vitamins to care for his crowning glory. He does yoga. He only drinks oat milk or almond milk or soy milk. He offers lattes and cappuccinos to everyone. He is a full-time firefighter who also dabbles in interior design on the side. He tosses around phrases like “white oak cabinets” and “pickled-satin finish” and “steel-troweled cement counters” with élan.

And you know how on other procedural series, like cop shows or medical shows, the lead characters (usually men) sneer about therapy and claim they don’t believe in talking about their feelings—as if talking about how you feel makes you any less of a man? Well, not Lowe’s Owen Strand. He makes going to Narcotics Anonymous (NA) a condition for his son to move with him from New York to Austin. He does the same with another firefighter in his firehouse and insists that he talk with a therapist about the trauma of being the only survivor in a major fire.

“9-1-1: Lonestar” ended up being the show that kept on giving. Far from being a simple stressbuster show that offered up some hot dudes with their shirts off, it is trying to turn a lot of stereotypical tropes on their head. And look, I’ll be honest: it’s not going to win an Emmy for Best TV Drama anytime soon, but apart from putting out literal fires, the show goes above and beyond when it comes to putting out cultural fires by increasing minority representation (and showing what the world actually looks like today) and blasting the heck out of “toxic masculinity” in pop culture.

It takes some big cojones to make a cisgender, heterosexual, masculine firefighter own his so-called feminine side openly and unapologetically. Lowe’s Strand never uses his love of skincare and oat milk and yoga as a punchline. Nope, he is very matter-of-fact about it all. This is a character who doesn’t even consider that his vanity is maybe what society views as a more feminine characteristic. He proves that men can take care of themselves and pop vitamins and eat clean and still jump into a fire to save people.

And I’m pretty damn sure that only Rob Lowe could’ve pulled off a role like this.

I started watching this show with zero expectations. But I came away fully verklempt that our network TV shows are slowly but surely starting to represent the world we live in. It also showed me that I can be as girly as I want to be but also give in to my masculine side and watch a show about firefighters or go to a truck show or watch WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). And that Lowe and Strand and all men can be as obsessed about interior décor and exfoliants as they are about firefighting and not lose an iota of their masculinity.

“9-1-1: Lonestar” and Rob Low truly represent a brave new world. And I, for one, cannot wait to see more of these types of shows in the future.

~

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