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When you got a formula which works, in which you can just change the actors (physically but keeping similar personalities), tinker with the storyline, and make something new, you use that! That is what Ryan Murphy has been doing for years and with Lee Daniels really gaining a lot of commercial notoriety with Empire, that is what you get with Star.
After the loss of their mom Mary, and their dads being who knows where, Star and Simone are separated and deal with stereotypical foster homes. The kind where abuse and sexual assaults are the norm and a loving parent is a fantasy. However, with Star coming up on her 18th birthday and her finding this girl named Alexandra on Instagram, who is one hell of a writer, she convinces her to come to Atlanta. A place where this woman named Carlotta, who knew Star and Simone’s mom, they think they can live with. Since, you know, at 18 you can get kicked out and with Simone being in a home where she was being raped, this only validates Star’s slightly impetuous plan.
However, things in Atlanta aren’t all gravy. For while Carlotta has herse;f a home business and seems to be doing well, there is some drama in her life. Her child is transitioning into being a girl, she has something going on with her pastor, and there is police violence haunting the streets. To make things worse, what Star did to Simone’s foster dad haunts Simone and trying to get prominent in the industry is harder than they thought. Even when they enlist the help of Jahil, Carlotta and Mary’s former manager, who ended things badly with both of them, things don’t jumpstart. Yet, with Star’s drive, the girls’ collective voices, and Jahil’s need to redeem his reputation and revitalize his career, we see them go from nothing to something.
Though the music stopped being of my taste sometime after the episode “Unlove You” was released, songs like “Man,” “Heartbreak,” “It’s Alright” and “Higher” have been in constant rotation on my phone. For there was something very commercial R&B about the songs. Heck, even the power ballad (I think it could be considered) “Heartbreak,” which samples Gladys Knight, it sounds like something you’d hear on the radio from an up and coming group. On top of that, the songs seemed very authentic to the characters and the way the melodies and harmonies are done, the girls just mesh so well that after every episode, oh how upset I sometimes was when a song’s lyric video, or a music video, wasn’t put online.
The Overall Around The Way Girl Vibe In The First Episodes
A constant issue, for me, when it comes to urban characters is we often see them after they got out of the hood. Flashbacks of harder times are the sole thing you may see from Cookie, Annaliese, and etc. With this show, though, we don’t see the life after the big struggle. These characters are at the beginning. But what really makes this some something is that their characters and stories felt like authentic lives. The kind you may know, or have known if you grew up in an urban area. Star, especially, as much of an uh-oh oreo she is, didn’t seem like some white girl cast for the sake of tokenism. Demorest knows how to move, talk, and you can tell this wasn’t some girl they picked just because she can sing and was cute, there is something more.
Something which can be said for all the characters on here. Whether you are talking about Simone with her nasty mouth but need for a real loving parent, or even Alexandra’s bougie Black ways, there is this authentic vibe out of everyone because, before Jahil’s storyline infected the show, everyone’s issues seemed rooted in reality. Be it dealing with being raped, surviving abuse and more, yet still hustling your way to better.
The Carlotta and Mary Characters
Despite Queen Latifah being an Oscar-nominated actress and Lee Daniels’ Precious being the type of production which made you weep, I wasn’t expecting to get to the point of slobbering tears. Did I, once or twice, get a Denzel tear in Glory, especially when Simone was going through so much? Yup. However, none of that compared to when we got the full scope of Carlotta’s backstory and realized how much Mary did for her. Yet, when it was time for Carlotta to return the favor, she didn’t. Couldn’t. Hell, just putting it into the equation that Mary died and maybe Carlotta could have done something helps you realize why Carlotta took this rag-tag group and is dealing with all their mess and making it hers.
But, let me reiterate, those flashbacks, they will have you in tears.
Jahil and His Storyline Adding An Abundant Amount of Drama – All Of Which Got Smoothed Over Too Quickly and Easily
Jahil has a drug addiction, has dealings with some sort of mob and a corrupt politician, and he brings all his nonsense to this show. All of which takes away from any sense of this program being rooted in reality. Plus, his drama brings Eva. An unnecessary catalyst to some of the most eye-roll inducing pettiness and drama we see. To the point that how her character is written off is not only a blessing but something long desired.
Inconsistent Storyline For Simone
Simone, arguably, had not only the best storyline but the best potential for character development. She was a character we witness raped, who longed for her mother, and was definitely rough around the edges. Carlotta brought the little girl out of her and when we saw her go to church, it seemed Carlotta and Pastor Harris was going to show how much the church is important in the urban community.
However, this all gets swept under the rug for the sake of Eva coming into play. Leaving a huge gap in Simone’s development from this used and abused teenager who needed love and the right kind of attention, to this person who seems almost well adjusted. If not, at the very least, able to hide her problems and deal with them on her own.
Alexandra’s Storyline Compared To Everyone Else
Alexandra got screwed. Star got to have a love interest and her own growth and development as a character, but all Alexandra got was Derek – a love interest. Someone whose life and family was so strongly written that you’d think Alexandra wasn’t front and center in the marketing of this show but somewhere in the back. For she essentially becomes the generic girlfriend who is supportive, hardly ever questions him, and is just lovely dovey with the boy.
Which does have some value, because colorism is a noted topic on the show, but with all Simone and Star go through as individuals, and all Alexandra gets is a cute boyfriend, it really seems they dropped the ball.
On The Fence
The Way Cotton’s Story Was Handled
Being that Laverne Cox is the sole prominent trans actress out there, especially of color, and she is mostly known for playing an inmate, I was hoping for so much out of Cotton. First I thought she was going to take over Jahil’s position as manager, since she got that hustler in her like Star. Then, I figured, since Star doesn’t seem to make a lot of friends easily, maybe Cotton could be her ride or die chick? Alas, Cotton mostly got regulated to correcting her mom who would misgender her but not call her by her birth name.
But then came the pray the gay away storyline came, Cotton got into drugs and hooking and you come to realize that this show was not about effectively telling her story. All that was desired was touching on something which is very on the nose. However, while the show wanted to touch on the issue, and what trans folk deal with, it had little investment in fully exploring it at the costs of Jahil’s drama. Of which Cotton ends up sucked into.
Overall: Mixed (Stick Around)
I’m not going to lie, there were times I wanted to drop this show since I was getting tired of Jahil’s drama and everyone who was connected to it. Yet, the core characters, Star, Simone, Carlotta, Cotton, maybe Alexandra to a point, they did their best in balancing out his nonsense. Of which, despite it seeming Jahil’s drama was over at one time, it seemingly is about to get worse. Though with him no longer managing the terribly named “Big Trouble,” his storyline is separate and hopefully it is the beginning of the end for his character on this show. A guy could wish, right?