TV: Music drama ‘Star’ disappoints

9 ET/8 CT Wednesdays on Fox. Premiered Dec. 14.

Fox’s new music drama Star is essentially the first draft of a final project. Hastily done and woefully in need of revision. This TV series about a girl group’s rise to fame needs a lot of polishing if it’s ever going to shine.

star
Promo image for Fox’s new music drama “Star.”

It’s a more dramatic version of Empire — also co-created by Lee Daniels — but with a highly implausible and messy story, and without the acting chops, the writing, the good music. In other words: it’s Empire without the good and with all the bad instead.

There are a few elements in the pilot that made me hopeful enough that the show could progress into something watchable. Cotton Brown (Amiyah Scott), a transgender character, has a significant role in the pilot, providing the most legitimate and interesting storyline thus far. At points, the performances from Queen Latifah, Lenny Kravitz, and Benjamin Bratt are strong enough to distract from the lesser performances from the other actors. Some of the characters in the diverse cast have interesting, emotional backstories that offer up potential. But that’s about where the good stops.

The bad, on the other hand, is all over the place. Early in the pilot, Star (Jude Demorest) easily gets out of the foster care system before turning 18 by asking her case worker (this was enough for me to be rolling my eyes; why not just start the series when she turned 18 so we didn’t have that implausibility right off the bat?), and then she travels to find her sister Simone (Brittany O’Grady), also a foster child. She reaches the home Simone is living in, and the door just happens to be unlocked, so Star barges in. But Simone and her foster father Otis (Darius McCrary) don’t hear her. Otis is assaulting Simone when Star arrives.  Star finally decides to be quiet, sneaking into the bedroom and stabbing Otis in the back with a knife. This is apparently enough to incapacitate him, leaving Star and Simone to run off. The two complete their girl group by picking up Star’s Instagram bestie Alex Crane (Ryan Destiny), who unbeknownst to Star is the daughter of a rock star (Kravitz).

This whole premise isn’t exactly original, and it’s certainly not well-realized. But it’s watchable to a point, if you can ignore how many times someone utters the word “star:” the name of the lead character, the show’s title, and what everyone on the show wants to be.

The three girls go to live with Star and Simone’s godmother Carlotta (Latifah) in Atlanta, where they hope to break into the music business. Latifah’s scenes are strong, and some of the scenes in her character’s hair salon are interesting, but none of it is good enough to save the show.

While Star attempts to explore some serious issues, it doesn’t have the strong foundation it needs to do so. In the first episode, the show strives to tackle everything from issues in the foster care system to sexual assault to Black Lives Matter to drug abuse, but Cotton’s brief storyline on being transgender is the only remotely successful attempt at social commentary. It’s problematic and disappointing to gloss over so many issues with such little substance. It’s even worse when these issues are book-ended by uninteresting and awkward fantasy music sequences. And don’t get me started on Alex’s romance with Derek (Quincy Jones) — there’s too little chemistry for their relationship to be as dramatic as it is by the end of episode two. This is how a lot of the show’s storylines work: it tries to take plot points to their climaxes before even building any tension.

I wish I could say that Star is a diamond in the rough, but, at this point, it’s too overcome with mess to shine. The second episode is the last I’m watching. If I want to watch a dramatic and diverse music TV series, I’d much rather wait for Empire to return.

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