‘Empire’ Spinoff ‘Star’ Is a Musical Mixed Bag

Drew Dietsch
TV
TV

Empire is a show that knows how melodramatic it is. It plays to its soap opera strengths and gives the audience a twist to the style that they haven’t seen before. Can the same be said of Star? To be fair, Star is a spinoff of Empire insomuch as it has the same creative force behind it. Director/creator Lee Daniels has certainly given the two shows a thematic link: they both take place within the cutthroat music industry. While Empire focuses on the management side of things, Star is taking a more obvious route.

The story centers around three friends who are trying to make it big as a soulful singing trio. Star Davis (Jude Demorest) is the eponymous hero of the story. She’s been kicked around foster homes for most of her life and has finally been able to pursue her musical career thanks to her collaboration with Alex Crane (Ryan Destiny). Crane is the daughter of a legendary rock star (Lenny Kravitz) and she’s trying to carve out her own artistic identity. Along with Star’s troubled but sweet-natured sister Simone (Brittany O’Grady), they seek the help of Carlotta Brown (Queen Latifah) in order to steer them in the right direction.

Star is a treat when it’s focused on its music; Carlotta’s introduction and the trio’s final musical number in the premiere episode are auditory pleasures of the highest caliber. The staging can leave a little to be desired but the songs hit home. All the actresses in the show give 100% and it shows on the screen. The problem comes with the way the characters are written. The show moves at such a brisk pace that there’s hardly any time to really sit and learn who these women are. Granted, it keeps the story and the songs coming at you, but that takes away some quieter moments that the characters need.

Maybe this wouldn’t be as much of a distraction if the plot and style weren’t so exaggerated. Star takes every storyline and treats it like modern Greek theater. The plots and character reactions are all playing to the box seats. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with this kind of storytelling, but when it’s coupled with a narrative we’ve seen plenty of times – the rise of a musical superstar – it can come across as over-the-top. That’s especially distressing when the show decides to tackle difficult and disturbing subject matter. Star‘s heart and mind are in the right place, but its devotion to flare can undercut some of its attempts at serious drama.

Still, there is plenty of room for Star to grow into something special. The cast is the show’s strongest asset; the material needs to learn how to make use of these talented actors. If all you’re looking for is some toe-tapping fun, Star delivers that in excess. If the show wants to be more than that, it needs to tone itself down a bit in order to let the story and characters breathe a little. But, they should definitely let Queen Latifah sing whenever she feels like it.

Drew Dietsch
Drew Dietsch has written for CHUD.com, the News-Press, WhatCulture, and releases a weekly film review podcast, The Drew Reviews Podcast. He'll yak your ear off about horror movies, Jaws, RoboCop, and/or Batman if you let him.
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