Or Nah? is a feature where we watch and review the first episode of a new TV show. We’ll let you know if it’s worth checking out. As always, these reviews are the opinion of the reviewer, but we’ll try to adequately explain why you should or shouldn’t give the show a chance and provide shows for comparison.
Romeo and Juliet, Montagues and Capulets, these names are ingrained in the minds of many students of English literature. Still Star-Crossed is the Shonda Rhimes led production based on Melinda Taub’s novel of the same name. In this world, we find out what happens in fair Verona after Romeo and Juliet’s deaths. The show opens with Romeo and Juliet’s wedding where the witnesses are Juliet’s cousin Rosaline (Lashana Lynch/ Death in Paradise; Crims), and Romeo’s cousin Benvolio (Wade Briggs/ Please Like Me; Home and Away). Neither witness seems particularly pleased that the wedding is happening. Nevertheless, the event successfully happens and the officiate, Friar Lawrence (Dan Hildebrand/Game of Thrones; Deadwood), sends a young messenger away to tell a yet unknown person, that the wedding took place.
Before the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt which ultimately lead to Romeo’s banishment from Verona and Juliet’s decision to fake her death, we gain insight into the backstories of Shakespeare’s original characters and Taub’s new characters. The most interesting characters are two sets of siblings: Rosaline and Livia (Ebonée Noel/ Law & Order: Special Victims Unit; Long Nights Short Mornings), and Princess Isabella (Medalion Rahimi/The Catch; Awkward) and Prince Escalus (Sterling Sulieman/Veep; Modern Family). Rosaline and Livia are both daughters of Lord Capulet’s now deceased brother. The sisters are recognized as Capulets but they are also servants to the household. Their aunt Lady Capulet (Zuleikha Robinson/The Following; Kingdom) has nothing but disdain for her nieces and doesn’t try hard to conceal this fact. Conversely, her husband, Lord Capulet (Anthony Stewart Head/Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Dominion) wants his nieces to be introduced to society and stop serving the household. Rosaline wants to become a nun and Livia is determined to marry a rich man who will build a family with her. The royal siblings are now in control of Verona and tasked with their father’s deathbed wish to put Verona’s stability ahead of everything else.
Rosaline and Livia are allowed to attend the royal ball and Lady Capulet attempts to embarrass Rosaline in front of the prince and princess. Although Rosaline is now a servant, the royal siblings remember their previous friendships with Rosaline and treat her with respect. During the ball Mercutio is stabbed by Tybalt and Romeo unwillingly kills Tybalt. True to the original text, Romeo and Juliet die, but in this version, Rosaline is the person who helps Juliet procure the potion that ‘kills her’. In the wake of Romeo and Juliet’s death, Lady Capulet attempts to make Rosaline feel guilty for being alive instead of Juliet. If you’re counting, this is the third time Auntie Capulet has been shady in regard to her nieces. When Rosaline decides she’s had enough and claps back at her aunt, we gain some insight into Lady Capulet’s behavior. Rosaline accuses her aunt of treating her and Livia badly because Lady Capulet wanted to marry their father, Lady Capulet’s husband’s brother. Instead, the man who Lady Capulet loved, married Rosaline and Livia’s mother. Consequently, the girl’s auntie was jealous of her sister-in-law and her nieces. In retaliation, Lady Capulet slaps Rosaline.
We find out that the mystery person who Friar Lawrence informed of the wedding was Romeo’s father, Lord Montague (Grant Bowler/Defiance; Getting On). In fact, Lord Montague paid the priest to marry Romeo and Juliet. Papa Montague wanted the union, not for the sake of love, but because the Capulets would be forcibly aligned to the Montagues.
During the joint funeral for Romeo and Juliet, Papa Montague presents a statue to the Capulets in Juliet’s memory, but the word ‘harlot’ is spray painted on the statue. Mass fighting ensues and the prince fights off attackers and in a swoon worth move, he grabs Rosaline by the waist and takes her to safety. Rosaline refuses to stay out of harm’s way and goes to find her sister. After the sisters return home, they argue about Rosaline’s decision to not only witness Romeo and Juliet’s wedding, but to also keep it secret from Livia. Rosaline is over the increasingly war-torn Verona and packs to flee the city. Although Rosaline wants Livia to come with her, Livia refuses to leave because she wants to retain her name as a Capulet and marry well. This is when Livia starts to annoy me. Running away is drastic, but Livia makes it seem like Rosaline’s desire to leave is completely unwarranted.
In the midst of the pandemonium, Rosaline is unexpectedly called to court by the prince. During this time Livia finds her aunt and the nurse in a secret room trying to save Count Prince (Torrance Coombs/Reign; The Tudors), Juliet’s official fiancé. The Count is still ailing from the knife wound Romeo gave him and Livia offers to help, because it is clear that another person is needed to help nurse the Count. Livia is sworn to secrecy and although this is a benevolent gesture, it’s more than clear that Livia is not above aligning herself with her aunt in order to find the husband she so desperately desires.
Meanwhile Rosaline is besieged during her trip to the palace when a seemingly helpful stranger offers to help her to safety. He turns out to be a rapist and Rosaline is rescued by Benvolio. Prince Escalus, following his father’s deathbed advice, seeks to bring peace to Verona. He is fearful that a divided Verona will easily fall to the hands of invading forces. To bring peace, Prince Escalus and Lord Capulet order Rosaline and Benvolio to marry. Both parties flat out refuse and we see the first flashes of anger from Lord Capulet.
The episode ends with the revelation that Prince Escalus and Rosaline were once in love, but Rosaline’s father was killed by a Montague just as Prince Escalus was forced to leave town by his father. The prince wants to help Rosaline recover her standing in society through marriage to Benvolio. However, Rosaline isn’t interested in societal standing; perhaps Prince Escalus can set Benvolio up with Livia.
The premise is intriguing and the cast is great. Lashana Lynch is a highpoint. The dialogue makes her theatre training an asset to this role. I had the pleasure of seeing her in a production of Educating Rita a few years ago and she held her own in an exhaustive two-person play. She also holds her own in Still Star-Crossed. Additionally, her character is intriguing and the potential love triangle between Rosaline, Prince Escalus, and Benvolio could be interesting if it is presented in a unique way.
Some of the dialogue and scenes are a bit cheesy. Additionally, some of the plots seem like unnecessary setups for characters to interact. One was Rosaline’s summons to court. Why would Prince Escalus place Rosaline’s life in danger by calling her to the palace during a citywide battle? This is even more glaring after we find out that the two were in love before he had to leave the city. By setting things up for Rosaline to travel unaccompanied she faced the threat of rape and was rescued by Benvolio. If the production relies heavily on melodrama, there is a danger of prolonging storylines to the point of tedium. Clearly marriage-hungry Livia needs to be the person to marry Benvolio, but that would eliminate the tension and potential love triangle.
Watch This if You Like: Reign, The White Queen, The Tudors, Death Comes to Pemberley, The Hollow Crown
Still Star-Crossed series premiere
Still Star-Crossed S1E1
Still Star-Crossed – S1E1 Starring: Anthony Stewart Head, Lashana Lynch. Medalion Rahimi, Sterling Sulieman, Zuleikha Robinson, Ebonée Noel, and Wade Briggs