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FOX’s New Show ‘Star’ Is Dim in the Shadow of ‘Empire’ (Review)

Fox 'Star' Review
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The thing about Star is that it’s kind of dim, and it shouldn’t be.

It should be bright and shiny, like a fine gold chain: it has the star power. It has the musical prowess. It even has the buzz, and though Lee Daniels’ unofficial Empire spinoff is being touted by FOX as the perfect sidekick to its highest rated show, Star seems to lack a lot of that shine and soapy, sexy drama that Empire does so well.

The new show, which debuts on Dec. 14, centers around Star (Jude Demorest) and Simone (Brittany O’Grady), two sisters separated by the system because of their drug addicted mother’s death, and Alexandra (Ryan Destiny), a pseudo-songwriter by way of Instagram. Over the years, Star and Simone’s godmother Carlotta Brown — a wonderfully grounded Queen Latifah (despite her terrible wigs, which look like they were lifted off the floor of Barbershop) — wrote to the girls in an effort to find them. Working off of little else but these letters and a desperate drive for stardom, Destiny’s Babies and/or Three Harmony head to Georgia to find fame and fortune. It’s a lot of backstory — and without giving away too much, a lot of big plot moments — to chew through in such a short amount of time before this ragtag band of girls hit the open road.

The issue with Star is that it’s too much. And in being too much, it’s always doing the most with the least. The show relies on too many show business tropes: the sleazy manager, the fallen-from-fame mentor with a show-stopping voice, the desperate childhood thirst for stardom and the compromising to get there, all of which are as subtle as a sledgehammer.

This isn’t to say that Star is inherently terrible, but it could be a lot better.

Star is borderline annoying in her need for glitz and glamour, but might just have the tenacity to survive in an industry that eats young girls alive. Simone, who battles an abusive past with drugs and alcohol, doesn’t illicit much from the audience other than realizing she is the Kelly to Star’s Beyoncé. And that makes Alexandra, with her plot line of being the too-rich-to-be-stressed daughter of a former rock star, the Michelle. It would work if these three grew up together, or even liked each other all, but they just come off as a wannabe TLC hip-pop girl group.

Beyond their lack of camaraderie, the plot relies too much on tired, risqué teenage girl troupes: Simone is made to be an example of a young woman hurt by the world, Alexandra showcases the privileged side, and Star shows her childhood naïveté while go-go dancing and getting in fights in back alleys. And yet all of them, clad in their tight gold onesies and shimmery short dresses, shake onward to the beat of their song, making what could be a compelling, character-driven musical drama into one long, cliché music video.

Every single pilot deserves some attribution of error, and with that, there does lie some promise in Star. The musical sequences, while a little too gaudy and gold, aren’t bad — in fact they’re quite catchy.

The best part, without a doubt, is Queen Latifah and her island of misfits: Carlotta’s salon is a safe harbor for women, LGBT, and African-American individuals all working to make their way in the world. It’s here that Star could stand to be a great show, taking on issues of diversity and self-identification amidst the idea of fame in the current celebrity landscape.

But for now, all Star seems to be is a shallow look at the trials and tribulations of fame, a story that has been told a thousand times in a thousand better ways. It’s going to have to do a lot more — be it character-driven or musically-driven — to even come close to resembling the pop culture juggernaut Empire became.

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