Director and creator of Empire, Lee Daniels is back with a potential crowd pleasing hit, revolving around three talented young singers who navigate the music business on their road to success.
At its core, Lee Daniels’ Star revolves around the interrelationship of sisters, the idea and the falseness associated with fame. Jude Demorest plays Star – a bombastic and hard-headed 18-year-old – desperately wanting to become a sensational star along with her sister, Simone (Brittany O’Grady) and newly acquainted friend, Alexandra (Ryan Destiny). After leaving their foster homes with nothing to lose, they seek Carlotta Brown (Queen Latifah), the moral arbitrator of the series, who allows them to stay with her having previously known their mother.
An amalgamation of Empire’s one liners and Gossip Girl’s cattiness, the saving grace of the pilot episode are the performances, especially Brittany O’Grady’s Simone. O’Grady plays Simone as someone who is driven more by the search for normalcy than fame. Latifah’s Carlotta shows us a tough, brazen woman, who will stop at nothing to protect these girls from the charismatic sleaze of a producer that is Jahil Rivera (Benjamin Bratt). It’s due to these performances that make this pilot so engaging.
It immediately turns camp after a character-defining conflict emerges between Simone and Star in the first 10 minutes of Act 1, which would have rushed the plot if it hadn’t been interrupted with the repetitious nature of the writing to refer to the fact that they are eager to become famous is monotonous at best. The music style of the show is contemporary R&B and in one number that brings Star to the fore in the eyes of a potential producer morphs into a choreographed number, which explains the atmosphere of the music industry. This structure of drama and performance allows you to look at a glimpse of the potential Star has and the naivety she possess in her willfulness. Nevertheless, fans of Empire will find comfort that Star is one facet away from Cookie Lyon herself.
The themes of race, sexuality, and ambition are what make the content of the pilot so much richer. The writing, co-written by Tom Donaghy and Lee Daniels, allows these themes to provide context and become realized in the fictional world of Star. Carlotta smirks and says, “You know what, my father always said to me… you only need three things in life: your bible, your word, and your gun.” From this, Carlotta is a woman who is loyal, honest and matriarchal. Nothing will stop her from doing what she need to do.
Overall, comparisons will be made to Daniels’ Empire, but what separates them is the focus on developing these complex characters whose ambition to become singers is the only truthfulness and realness they have in their lives. They are relatable, and it’s easy to become enraptured with their ambition to succeed. It’s a story of self-discovery. Whether they make it big is still questionable; otherwise, it could lead to an ending similar to Therese Raquin.
Star airs on Wednesdays at 9 PM ET/PT on FOX.