Still Star-Crossed (ABC) pilot preview: Shonda Rhimes goes all Shakespearian and Downton Abbey


Created and executive produced by Heather Mitchell (Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy). Based on Melinda Traub‘s novel. Directed by Michael Offer (How To Get Away With Murder, Homeland, Longmire). Also executive produced by Shonda Rhimes, Betsy Beers (How To Get Away With Murder, Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy) & Michael R. Goldstein (Rodney) & José Luis Escolar (Cloud Atlas, Kingdom of Heaven, Indiana Jones and the Last Cruisade). For ABC, ABC Studios, Shondaland Productions & The MrG Production Co. 64 pages.

Description: In the 16th century Verona, the deaths of Romeo and Juliet have escalated the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets. The streets of Verona have become dangerous, traitors have emerged, and the kingdom is vulnerable to attack. The young ruling Prince of Verona, Escalus, wants to end the feud and bring peace to the kingdom. Following the sage advice of his sister Princess Isabella he devises a plan to marry a Capulet to a Montague to unite the families and strengthen his position. He commands a union between Romeo’s cousin, the womanizing Benvolio, with Juliet’s cousin, Rosaline, who is in love with Prince Escalus. Each is fiery and independent. They’ll have to banter their way to a compromise in the midst of treachery, power grabs and palace intrigue. Another star-crossed love story begins.

With Lashana Lynch, Sterling Sulieman (The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars), Torrance Coombs (Reign, The Tudors), Zuleikha Robinson (Lost, Homeland, Rome, The Lone Gunmen), Grant Bowler (Lost, Ugly Betty, Defiance, True Blood), Anthony Head (Buffy, Merlin, Dominion, Free Agents), Medalion Rahimi (The Catch), Wade Briggs (Please Like Me), Ebonée Noel, Dan Hildebrand (Sons of Anarchy, Deadwood) and guest-stars Clara Rugaard as Juliet & Lucien Laviscount as Romeo (Scream Queens, Episodes).

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We probably all had the same reaction when we learned the Shondaland pilot of the year for ABC was 1/ a period drama 2/ a sequel to Romeo & Juliet: we laughed hysterically and cried a little. And now, it’s time for a little prayer. Make it work. Make it beautiful. Make it modern, somehow. Make it the Downton Abbey of Shonda Rhimes. She always said she was a big fan of the UK show (which is huge in the US too). Some say she’s “the Shakespeare of our time” (and yes, it’s too much). In 2016, we celebrate the 400th birthday of the author’s death. There’s no coincidence, if you ask me. This will be probably get ordered no matter what. Let’s see if it’s worth it or if it’s just saying “yes” to everything Shonda initiates.

For many years, networks worked on modern incarnations of cult Romeo & Juliet. At least one project like this is in development every year. And none of them hit the air in the end. Maybe because Shakespearian tales fuel soap operas for decades, whether consciously or not. The tragedies he wrote are timeless and still resonate with our world, our lives. In that regard, those projects had nothing special going on for them. Maybe the right way to go was this all along and nobody believed in it, or was up to the challenge: adaptating the original story as a period drama and going even further. And asking the crucial question: what happens in Verona once Romeo & Juliet are dead? Still Star-Crossed, despite its flaws, boldly goes in that direction and never apologizes for it.

More specifically, the first two acts are dedicated to tell the story of Romeo & Juliet respectfully. I wouldn’t say it’s boring but we all know how it plays out and how it’s gonna end. Honestly, I don’t know if they could have done otherwise. For the few (young?) people who don’t know it or for those who don’t remember it well, it seemed to be inevitable. Plus, since Romeo & Juliet are those who started the war, it would have been strange not to meet them. And it’s better than flashbacks. The good thing is we’re introduced through their last days to the characters that will play huge parts in the rest of the show, from delivish Lady Capulet and her coward of a husband to Mercutio, and Rosaline, and Tybalt… The list goes on and on. Maybe that’s the biggest problem here: too many characters and very little time to serve them correctly.

This is mostly a premise pilot, that sets up the situations and the relationships for the remainder of the season. Don’t expect too many twists and turns. There are but it’s not the point. And there’s plenty to do starting from here, though I don’t think the first season will consist of more than 13 episodes, since it looks like a midseason entry and the budget will be high with a shooting in Spain. That’s probably for the best. It needs to be prestigious and strong. 22 episodes wouldn’t suit it well. Look at Reign on The CW, in the same vein: it is quite good but the first seasons were way too long. It lost my interest. They have to avoid that at any cost, even if it becomes a success. It needs to be an event. Its built-in brand appeal already makes it an important appointment.

I don’t want to be too specific about what happens in the pilot, I’d just say it’s more exciting than I expected, quite well-written, and it can also appeal to those, like me, who are not fans of period pieces. Treachery, power grabs and palace intrigue are at the center, and it’s not that hard to connect with the characters. They feel modern. The women are, definitely. I have a harder time with the men, it will probably take more time to like them. The show is clearly geared towards women. Unfortunately, it lacks humor and eccentricity for my tastes. I couldn’t stop thinking of the movie Romeo + Juliet, with Claire Danes & Leonardo DiCaprio. It was brilliant, we’re far from it. There are no A-listers in the cast but some people we will be happy to meet again.

Still Star-Crossed seems to be a no-brainer for a pick-up at ABC, not because it’s incredibly good but because it’s different from what networks are used to, because it has a real appeal and already make people curious, and because it’s from Shonda Rhimes of course. It’s a risk worth taking, as long as they play their cards right. 

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