A first look at the new series Star aired right after Empire Wednesday night. It has a great advantage: It’s a Lee Daniels production set in the music world. It also has a great disadvantage: It’s a Lee Daniels production set in the music world.
Empire’s debut set the bar pretty high and went on to be a ratings phenomenon in its first season (Star’s ratings for this one-off episode were pretty good). It might not be fair to compare the two shows, but, of course, we are going to compare the two shows, which makes things tough for Star.
The show is about three young singers: Star Davis (Jude Demorest); her sister, Simone (Brittany O'Grady); and Alexandra Crane (Ryan Destiny). They are determined to escape their lives and become a major girl group, so they run off to Atlanta.
They fit your basic character tropes: Star is the feisty rebel, who just escaped the foster care system; Simone is the vulnerable sister whom Star tracks down and rescues from a hellish home; and Alexandra is the spoiled rich girl. (She only knows Star from Instagram and is already heading across the country with her!) The show knows you’re thinking of the Supremes, TLC and, of course, Destiny’s Child, and acknowledges that right off the bat with a Diana Ross poster and a few bars of “Waterfalls.”
Star Davis is white with blond hair, while her sister Simone is biracial and their friend Alexandra is dark-skinned. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to glean that race and identity will play pivotal roles in the show’s plot. If Star ends up being singled out as the Diana Ross/Queen Bey of the group—and since the first episode puts her at the center of the action, she will—you can count on race and colorism causing conflict.
Sadly, it’s not unrealistic to expect that the entertainment industry will favor the white girl (producer Lee Daniels has said he cast a white lead to help heal the country; mmmkay then). If Star is the Queen Bey, I'm gonna guess Alexandra is Kelly Rowland, leaving Simone to be “the other one.”
The series is eager to grab you, so the show kicks things off with a shocking act of violence, which will come back to haunt the girls. In a hurry to dazzle the viewing audience, the unknown group is immediately thrust into a choreographed performance at a bigwig’s party. Plausible? No; the acts on Empire pay their dues before getting their break, and even the established ones aren't filling stadiums, but we're not to supposed to make the comparison.
Was I blown away? No, but as the show finds its footing, the producers made the wise choice of including big names in big roles. Queen Latifah as the girls’ new den mother, Benjamin Bratt as a sketchy talent manager, and Lenny Kravitz as Alex’s dad and a celebrity in the music industry add some much-needed star power to go along with the young acting trio at the core of the show. We get to hear Queen Latifah sing, which is worth the price of admission, and no doubt Kravitz will perform at some point.
Without giving away a spoiler, that shocking violent incident that happened early in the episode results in a surprising cliffhanger, so that may be a good inducement to keep watching. It'll take a couple of more episodes to see if this Star rises, but so far there is potential to be a guilty pleasure.
Star will return with its official run in January.
Elaine G. Flores is a New York writer, editor and bon vivant. She’s a hard-core shipper and excommunicated soap opera reviewer. Her fictional dinner-party guests include Omar Little, Buffy Summers, Abigail Mills and Ichabod Crane. You can visit her site, TV Recappers Delight.