Stay Tuned: Shondaland takes on Shakespeare in ‘Still Star-Crossed’
“Still Star-Crossed” looks at what happens after the ill-fated Romeo and Juliet die. From Shonda Rhimes’ production company and executive producer and writer Heather Mitchell, the series is based on Melinda Taub’s book of the same name. It’s an adaptation that’s high on production values but low on emotional complexity. The visually beautiful series feels lightweight.
Not much time is spent on the death of Romeo and Juliet — it’s more like the Cliff Notes version of their story. The real action takes place once they drink their poison and all hell breaks loose between Verona’s version of the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s. According to Lord Silvestro Capulet (Anthony Head), the trouble started when his grandfather decided it was a good idea to let an ambitious Montague shepherd dream big. Now the Montague’s and their new money are a constant thorn in the Capulets’ side as both families jostle for wealth and power. It’s a tit-for-tat battle as one or another extended family member of each household decides to solve disagreements with a sword. The battles turn into war during the doomed lovers’ funeral.
Not surprisingly, swords are drawn less than 15 minutes in and when the characters aren’t clanging steel through the streets of Verona, the dialogue leans heavily on exposition. What’s worse is when they aren’t explaining things, they are speaking in an odd mix of Shakespearian phrases and modern slang. In the same episode, you’ll hear “a plague on both your houses” and “all of this is on you!” Very little time is spent on letting the emotional weight of the original story weave its way into this “what happens next” version.
In terms of pace, the show moves quickly. There are several edits where the camera swoops in on the action through open windows and doors. It gives the series energy but in an odd way, like you could be watching a flashy video game rather than a drama. The costumes are beautiful and add to the lavish, romantic feel of the show.
There are a few performances worth mentioning. While Anthony Head chews the scenery as Lord Capulet and Grant Bowler brings an unhinged energy to Lord Damiano Montague, it is the female characters who are the highlight of the show. Medalion Rahimi has a strong screen presence as Princess Isabella and deserves more (and better) dialogue. Lashana Lynch, who plays Rosaline Capulet, the niece of Lord Capulet who is taken in by him when her parents die, gives the role her all and is easily one of the more interesting and watchable characters.
Another is Lady Guiliana Capulet played by Zuleikha Robinson. She is no fan of Rosaline and her sister Livia (Ebonee Noel) so when they join her household, they lose their noble status and are forced to work as servants. Robinson plays the cold-hearted Lady Capulet with a solid amount of soap opera villainy. She tells Rosaline: “If you think I can’t make you suffer a thousand times more than you already have, you have less imagination than I thought.” Forget the Montague’s and the Capulet’s. That’s a battle that has some potential.
“Still Star-Crossed” is on Monday’s at 10 p.m. EDT on ABC.
-- Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing’” and the recently released “The American Television Critic.” She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.