December 15, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Star”


STAR:  Wednesday 9PM on FOX (returning January 4) – In the Queue

The writer/producer/director Lee Daniels makes his home in wild melodrama, and he’s had success at two extremes:  with the almost hallucinatory grittiness of Precious, and the ultra-glitz of Empire.  His new FOX series STAR is an attempt to meld both, and not unexpectedly, the tone at least at the start is uncertain.

The meld is very literal.  Star is about a girl group trio, two of whom are the one step from the streets half-sisters Star (Jude Demorest) and Simone (Brittany O’Grady), and the other rich girl Alexandra (Ryan Destiny), who Star met on Instagram and who, unbeknownst to her partners, is the daughter of music superstar Roland Crane (Lenny Kravitz).  The three make their way to Atlanta, where they live and work with Star’s concerned godmother Carlotta Brown (Queen Latifah), a church-going hairdresser with a trans daughter Cotton (Amiyah Scott) she doesn’t fully accept, and they struggle to become famous.

Daniels, who created the series with Tom Donaghy (they wrote the pilot, and Daniels directed it), has no patience for gradual plot or character development, and before the first commercial break, Star has tracked down Simone to the foster home where she’s in the process of being raped by her foster father, and Star promptly stabs him (although she hasn’t killed him as she believed).  By what seems to be their second night in Atlanta, Star is already accompanying Cotton to a local strip club where Star performs in the champagne room for dissolute, down on his luck manager Jahil Rivera (Benjamin Bratt), who naturally has history with both Star and Simone’s dead mother and Carlotta, whom he’d once managed.  Immediately after that, the girls are performing at the house party of an NFL player.

With so much going on, the Star pilot is compelling, but Daniels hasn’t yet found its consistent throughline.  Star isn’t emotionally gripping the way Precious was, and it lacks the guilty pleasure quality of Empire.  Although generally the show strives for a sort of realism, Daniels shoots the musical numbers like fantasy videos that are fun but disrupt the mood, and the musical performances themselves have plenty of energy but in a generic way.  Demorest is placed front and center as the powerhouse heart and mouth of the show, and it’s too much on her shoulders:  she’s a young performer who can’t summon the kind of electricity that Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard initially gave to Empire.  (O’Grady and Destiny have much less to work with in the pilot, one being a troubled drinker and the other little more than spoiled and headstrong.)  The plotting, too, is mostly second-hand, relying on old saws like buried family history and the guy Star thinks she killed but didn’t.

After tonight’s premiere, Star returns in 3 weeks to occupy Empire‘s timeslot, meaning without that show as a lead-in.  (At least it’s lucky that Lethal Weapon should give it more support than Rosewood would have last season.)  It seems unlikely to generate the kind of excitement that Empire did–and even that one-time blockbuster has cooled down quite a bit these days–but FOX will give it every opportunity to succeed, and the pieces are intriguing enough that it’s worth some tries to see whether it can find its own tune.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."