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Still Star-Crossed TV Review – YA Shakespeare Meets Shonda Rhimes

Still Star-Crossed, the novel by Melinda Taub, is an interesting and clever look at the world Shakespeare didn’t actually lay out all that distinctly in Romeo & Juliet.  It’s equal parts fan fiction and development cheat by appropriation, but it spins a decent yarn and delivers an updated sense of drama. It’s not only solid YA entertainment, but it’s just the sort of effort we could use more of, both as an enticement to read more and backward entry into other literature.

Still Star-Crossed, the show, dresses up the idea wonderfully but renders it all rather lifeless by trying to out-drama itself at every turn in a decidedly Shondaland morass of overworked histrionics. Oddly, this manages, at points, to come full circle and become interesting again by offering up near-cornball drama in situations that actually require all the drama you would think you could muster.

The show ultimately revolves around Rosaline Capulet (Lashana Lynch) and Benvolio Montague (Wade Briggs) with, obviously, feints-within-feints concocted by their respective families. The show opens with an introduction that sets the stage for Romeo and Juliet to fall, while introducing us to the characters, and from there sets us on a path that sees destruction on the horizon, not just for the families concerned, but Verona itself. Said destruction is all but guaranteed no matter what anyone does, which means we’re in for a lot of twists and turns.

The Capulet house is led by Lord Silvestro (Anthony Head) and Lady Guiliana (Zuleikha Robinson). They are characters that are at best an accusation against Shakespeare’s own oversimplifications, but this is perhaps to think too highly of what’s going on here. Guiliana lacks only a mustache to twirl, and Silvestro is in such service to the plot’s wanderings that he becomes self-contradictory. Then we have Rosaline Capulet who, along with her sister, Livia, is both a Capulet and a surrogate Cinderella. The sisters are, somehow, both servants and members of the Capulet family.

Meanwhile, the Montagues are led by Lord Damiano (Grant Bowler), who shakes his fist emphatically in the Capulet’s general direction.

photo: ABC/Manu Trillo

Despite the show’s clunky dialog, and flair for splashing bits of flair on whatever flair it may find, the heart of the matter still manages to find a way to audiences. It seems to be despite the production’s best efforts, but it’s there all the same. Lynch may be the show’s only hope as she’s the only one able to resist falling down the rabbit hole erected around her. She has in mind a character, rather than a caricature, but she’s largely alone in the effort. Of course, Anthony Head is doing his best to circumvent the material too, but he’s had a lot of practice.

Like everything else with any Shonda Rhimes connection, Still Star-Crossed doesn’t realize that it’s far closer to Galavant than Shakespeare, but it at least leaves off the insistence that its audience is especially dull. It’s more interested in pageantry than anything, and it nudges every plot step toward the realm of soap opera, but it saves itself to some degree by opening the door for richer characters.

The main misstep here is that the show is trying to be too many things, and most of it feels as though it is trying to be those things in service to the network’s needs. It aims to get a little Shondaland into the aging Once Upon a Time and cross markets, and the legitimate, albeit guilty, pleasure of the source material be damned.

There is room to hope for this one, as the show may be able to settle into a routine that favors a less colorful effort and intrigue while bringing life to the characters, but it probably isn’t the way to bet.

 

Summary
Still Star-Crossed is a step above most Shondaland efforts, likely due to the source material, but it can't break free entirely and ultimately wastes the effort.
3.5
Bad
Written by

Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet’s film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

  • Luc Hellen

    ‘Inspire some to read’? Heheh … really Mr. Eastman? Via what mechanism? Surely not by the captivating acting, engrossing story telling or riveting prose.
    And to be honest, I’m not so sure how massive doses (at regular made-for-TV episodic intervals) … of identity politics, political correctness, SJW delirium, ironically reverse cultural appropriation, gratuitous ennobling, white guilt, artistic irredentism, and/or insanity … will drive (via the ‘backdoor’ no less) said ‘inspiration for Shakespeare and literature’.

    But hey, I’m sure you know what you’re talking about when you assert: “it’s just the sort of effort we could use more of”

    Clearly, zealotry has no limits … and Shakespeare had no copyrights.

    • areyouscreening

      Well, I guess we know what novel you really hated.

      As to the actual point at issue. I do have a Secondary Education degree, so I feel I have some nominal awareness when it comes to getting people to read. Beyond that, it is simply something that I have made it a point to study.

      The term is “backward entry,” and it isn’t one that I made up. Fan fiction and/or novels that appropriate the characters and settings of classic literature have long been shown to bring people to the works that inspired them, and this one is a fun and intriguing effort that doesn’t talk down to its audience.

      On the other hand, since you find it hard to imagine that I would suggest this could inspire some to read, and mockingly note that such is unlikely to be achieved by way of the “captivating acting,” and go on to mention several things that have little connection to the book, I’d suggest that you perhaps are not quite so adept at the sport yourself.

      • Luc Hellen

        “Well, I guess we know what novel you really hated.”

        Come now, your so-called review is titled “Still Star-Crossed TV Review” … not ‘Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub.’ You commit 543 words to ABC’s TV show … and a only 82 to Taub’s book. Yet here you are pretending this is about Taub’s book …and feigning confusion at a references to “captivating acting”.

        What a tangled web we weave.
        heheh

        “Fan fiction and/or novels that appropriate the characters and settings of classic literature have long been shown to bring people to the works that inspired them,”

        Yes, yes! I see it now. Like a gateway drug … to [gasp] Shakespeare. The would-be inspired could start off with Shakespeare playing cards … then enticed to move on to short comic strips on Shakespeare a la Mya Gosling … then driven to Melinda Taub’s fan fiction Shakespeare … then compelled by ABC’s Shakespeare in Still Star-Crossed TV show … and finally, at the height of their ‘inspired’ trajectory, these energized individuals will hurl themselves over a great lacuna of literacy … from neophyte readers to ravenous bibliophiles … onto the pages of the great poet himself.
        What’s that saying? Give a man a fish … and he’ll become a marine biologist.

        What a happy happenstance this “backward entry” is.

        Clearly, ABC is increasing the literacy rate of America! Who knew?

        Thank you Marc … and thank gawd for your secondary education.

        You remind me of Otto West.

        Otto: Apes don’t read philosophy.

        Wanda: Yes they do, Otto. They just don’t understand it. Now let me correct you on a couple of things, OK? Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not “Every man for himself.” And the London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes, Otto. I looked them up.

        • areyouscreening

          I’m not feigning anything, you called into question the idea of inspiring to read by quoting my use of the phrase, then propose to wonder what might be inspiring about it and list the captivating acting among the things which, I presume by following what you’re saying (an idea you might want to latch onto), make the suggestion laughable.

          My suggestion that “it” might inspire readers is from the first paragraph –

          Still Star-Crossed, the novel by Melinda Taub, is an interesting and clever look at the world Shakespeare didn’t actually lay out all that distinctly in Romeo & Juliet. It’s equal parts fan fiction and development cheat by appropriation, but it spins a decent yarn and delivers an updated sense of drama. It’s not only solid YA entertainment, but it’s just the sort of effort we could use more of, both as an enticement to read more and backward entry into other literature.

          – in which it couldn’t be more clear that I’m talking about the book.

          I imagine that there is some way to conclude that because I go on from there to talk about the TV show, which I generally make fun of and give a low rating, that I mean to imply that the same is true about that TV show… no, wait, I think I’ll stick to my first impression of your reading skills.

          As to the backward entry rant, which is somewhat fun in its way, I’ll leave you to find the research on your own, or not. Or, I suppose I could just refer you to all English teachers everywhere.

          It’s YA fiction. It’s whole purpose is to be a gateway drug.

          • Luc Hellen

            Yes well, it’s clear that even while we’re on a comments section dedicated to an online review (by your hand) of the TV Show ‘Still Star-Crossed’ … for the purpose of this ‘debate’, Melinda Taub’s book has become (and this is an idea YOU might want to latch onto) your veritable safespace.

            it’s time for you and I to choose a ‘backward entry’ onto our respective … happy trails.

          • areyouscreening

            I appreciate the emphasis, and I get the idea that you aren’t able to follow the idea that it is possible to make statements which refer to other things once you’ve given something a title. Still, latching onto her book as a “safespace” isn’t an idea that makes any sense.

            Her book is merely the referent of the statements I make which refer to it.

            I suppose I might have said in the review, “by the way, Romeo & Juliet is actually very good,” and your response would be, “Aha, you said this TV show was very good.”

            Ok, then. I’ll consider myself thoroughly rebuked for suggesting that this TV show could entice people to read. I didn’t say it, but apparently you have to get your fist-shaking out of your system.

            Cheers!

  • Brian

    Histrionic PC (anachronistic) hot mess drivel – methinks not to die for – but definitely if exposed to die from.

  • Rachad TheScorpion West

    This show is actually good.

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