‘Star’ Is Kind Of Like ‘Empire,’ But Less Fun And With More Lenny Kravitz

The temptation here is to compare Fox’s new drama Star to its juggernaut drama Empire. It’s not an unreasonable temptation. Both are produced by Lee Daniels, and both focus on the music industry, and both feature a mostly black cast in a time when that is still far from the norm on a major network. Also, both feature extended musical interludes, and an almost reckless commitment to burning through plots at a breakneck speed, and Fox is debuting Star directly on the back of Empire’s midseason finale. There’s a nonzero chance that these two shows won’t just fold into each other one day and create a huge weekly two-hour block about musicians doing morally dubious things to each other between performances.

But, even with that all said, there are some differences worth pointing out, some of them good, some of them… less so. And Lenny Kravitz is in this one. I’m not sure where exactly that falls on the scale of good to bad, but I am sure it’s worth noting. He looks like he’s in his own wardrobe, too. I choose to believe they had different outfits selected for his character but he refused to change.

(And where does a guy named “Lenny” get off getting a nose ring? It’s a fair question. But look at me, going on and on about Lenny Kravitz again.)

Anyway, the show: Star focuses on a young woman named Star (Jude Demorest) who wants to be a star. She starts out the show in a foster home in Pittsburgh, with bad foster parents who make her do the dishes, which would feel like a bigger deal if Star didn’t promptly bolt to find her half-sister, Simone (Brittany O’Grady), who has really bad foster parents. (More on this in a bit.) The two of them then flee to Atlanta with a spoiled teen musician named Alexandra (Ryan Destiny) who Star met on Instagram (and who is secretly the daughter of a fabulously wealthy rock star played by Lenny Kravitz and his scarves, who call Alexandra “a talentless brat”), where they meet up with their church-loving, Gospel-singing, salon-owning godmother, Carlotta (Queen Latifah, who is really kind of great in this), and start trying to build their music career.

Which is fine. There is almost definitely a show in there. On paper, you could do a heck of a lot worse than “an economically mismatched girl group tries to make it in the music business on a show helmed by one of TV’s most successful producers.” The problem it has so far is balance. This is where the differences with Empire come in.

Empire, despite its flaws, is a fun show. Yes, people get murdered, and people lose babies, and everyone on the show has been double crossed so many times that they show all be legitimately dizzy. But the characters are so big and bold — and, importantly, grown — that, when it really gets going, you just consume it like candy. Star is darker. A lot darker. I’ll try not to spoil all of this too much, but here are a few things that happen in the pilot alone:

  • A teenager is sexually assaulted by her foster parent
  • Someone gets stabbed with a huge kitchen knife
  • A teenager is pressured into dancing at a strip club to seduce a talent manager (played by Benjamin Bratt, who is very sleazy and loving it)
  • A different teenager displays serious substance abuse problems that stem from a life of non-stop trauma

And that’s fine, too. I mean, it’s not “fine,” like in life. It’s tragic. But it’s fine for a show or movie to address topics like that, because they’re real things that can really happen. It’s just… it’s a lot. And without a character like Cookie from Empire who is loud and bigger than life and will attack anyone with whatever is handy because Taraji P. Henson is the best, the fact that these girls are teenage runaways with really serious problems is something that’s hard to shake. Especially when those problems are brushed aside a little too easily, like when one of the singers problem-drinks before a performance and quite literally just shakes off the intoxication before taking the stage

Could it all improve? Well, yeah. Sure. As I said earlier, it does have a fair amount going for it, on paper. The trick will be taking the good stuff from that paper and putting in on the screen without glossing over the very serious, very real problems the show hurried up and gave all of its characters in the first 30 minutes of the pilot. Maybe they can just put Cookie on this show, too. I think that would help. But I say that about every show, so take it with a grain of salt.

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