There are a few ways to know you’ve stepped outside Texas state lines — the dreaded "do you ride a horse to school?" question, the barks of "you say ‘y’all?!’" and the ongoing mystery of where to get breakfast tacos.
Watching "9-1-1 Lone Star," Ryan Murphy’s new TV series on firefighting in Austin, feels a bit like that. And according to real-life Austin firefighters, the show lies somewhere between ridiculous and hokey.
"I wonder if the writers of the show have ever even been to Austin," said Austin fire Battalion Chief Brian Tanzola.
Listen to Kelsey Bradshaw dish on what Austin firefighters think of "9-1-1: Lonestar" on Austin360 Radio:
The series, which stars Rob Lowe as transplanted New York City firefighter Owen Strand, premiered in January and has its firefighters responding to scenes involving tacos, barbacoa pits and a mercury poisoning that leaves its victims in zombielike states. You know, the real Austin-y stuff firefighters deal with before heading to a honky-tonk bar or off on a horseback ride.
"I don’t even know where there are honky-tonks in the city of Austin, and I haven’t seen a horse in decades," Tanzola said.
Tanzola watched the second episode of the show with the Austin fire crew at Station 34: Capt. David Skowron, Fire Specialist Clint Matcek and firefighters John Sorrells and Dave Mitchell.
"The only reason I sat down to watch it is I wanted to see how bad it was, and it did not disappoint," Tanzola said. "It was definitely terrible."
REVIEW: ‘9-1-1: Lone Star’s’ Austin is total make-believe and we love it
In between Lowe excitedly announcing how cheap rent is in Austin (it’s not), his disbelief that a yoga studio and organic fruits and vegetables are nearby (Whole Foods started here), and riding horses with his co-workers (OK), the show paints a confusing picture of the Texas capital.
But we guess it makes sense that Lowe is dumbfounded by all Austin, ranked the best place to live in the U.S. last year, has to offer. He is a "city slicker," after all.
In the show, Lowe is a skin care-obsessed 9/11 survivor. He is recruited to Austin to help bring the fire department "into the 21st century" after the Department of Justice raised concerns about diversity.
Lowe arrives shortly after a fertilizer plant explosion — reminiscent of the 2013 West explosion —kills all but one at the fictional station, leaving the lone survivor on the offensive against the East Coaster, who is revamping the firehouse.
"In case you’re not aware, we don’t have any fertilizer plants in the Austin area," Tanzola said.
Once Lowe hires a crew, the team is off responding to babies stuck in trees, listening to his skin care tips and line dancing once they’re off the clock. Tanzola said there is nothing similar about the show and the Austin Fire Department.
"The incidents they respond to are completely ridiculous. I don’t know any other way to put it," Tanzola said. "It’s about as far-fetched as you could possibly reach. The one where they had the car seat stuck in the tree is ... I don’t even have words."
In Austin, firefighters eat meals together at work and often hang out at after-work dinners or events, but they don’t really discuss skin care.
"I think that’s them making fun of Rob Lowe," Tanzola said.
Fire stations in Austin have terrazzo floors and commercial-grade cabinets, appliances and furniture instead of the spalike elements depicted on the show.
Officials with the show reached out to the Austin Fire Department several times before the series aired to make sure names they wanted to use were not already in use in the department, fire officials said. But no other consultation was done before the show aired.
"They use the wrong fire hydrants," Tanzola said.
The firefighters at Station 34 recognize that shows like "9-1-1 Lone Star" are not fully based on reality. Skowron said it was still fun to see the show insert food trucks whenever they could and allude to Austin institutions like Whole Foods in episodes.
"We enjoyed it, but largely because it seemed to be a caricature of Austin and the fire service in general. It was a mixture of absurdity and ridiculousness," Skowron said.
As for whether the fire crew will be watching future episodes? It depends. Skowron would like to keep up but doesn’t have cable at home, and Tanzola only plans to watch if he happens to catch it.
"I would watch it because, again, it’s kind of campy," Skowron said.
Mitchell wouldn’t go out of his way to watch the show, and Sorrells has no desire to keep up with the fictional fire crew.
"I will not watch it again," Matcek said. "I don’t think I can get that hour of my life back."