Watch a solid 10 minutes of Lee Daniels’ show Star, and the drama immediately jumps out. With its revolving door of celebrity cameos, Empire’s little sibling can seem like a thinly narrated whirlwind. Yet among the constant plot twists, there’s a fair amount of musical chops and “sis, wyd?” moments for avid TV watchers to whet their appetites for amusement.
If you’re unfamiliar with Star‘s premise, Daniels’ production centers on Carlotta Brown (Queen Latifah) and a trio of talented, Atlanta-based performers Alex (Ryan Destiny), Simone (Brittany O’Grady) and of course Star (Jude Demorest), as they navigate the never-ending melodrama of the music industry. After Simone and Star, who grew up in depressing foster home environments, link up with privileged music heiress Alex, the singers strive toward fame, forming the girl group Take 3. Much like on Empire, the group of music-industry rookies often finds themselves juggling the pressures of being signed artists on the rise, encountering obstacles like superficial relationships, drug addiction and even a sprinkle of criminal violence.
When Star first premiered, it was far from the Black Twitter-verified breakout that “the show about Cookie Lyon” was when it first debuted. The expectations for Star’s success were greatly underestimated, and with reason. With Demorest cast as the principal protagonist, the Fox drama was quickly dismissed as another series bordering on ridiculous.
“She affects a ridiculous accent (she’s in Pennsylvania but sounds like she’s from Queens in an attempt to come off as hard) and attitude that is cartoonish and never grounded in Taraji P. Henson’s talent or likability,” Molly Eichel said, in her review of the pilot for A.V. Club. “I believed Cookie Lyon when she discusses her past successes and genius, I didn’t believe Star through her own bulls**t swagger.”
“Demorest can sing, but like most of the younger cast members, she is an unpolished actor and frequently gives a shrill and one-dimensional performance,” Variety echoed in its critique of the series.
However, as the show found its footing in season two, a bevy of recurring roles were added to create colorful layering in various storylines, with actors like Benjamin Pratt, Naomi Campbell, Miss Lawrence, Luke James, Lance Gross and Brandy Norwood. Quavo, a member of the award-winning rap group Migos, even appears as himself and does a duet with Alex. The newest talent additions distracted from the series’ lack of dramatic depth and highlighted its strengths; music and soap opera-styled melodrama. Now in season three, Star continues to hone in on what makes it fun, remaining directly on the pulse of current trends for the enjoyment of pop-culture enthusiasts.
Star also maneuvers social issues like colorism and LGBTQIA+ acceptance, while also cranking out low-key jams backed by Republic Records. Some of the show’s highest notes touch on subcultures that are not often showcased within mainstream productions. For instance, in the episode titled “Let The Good Times Roll,” the crew parties at an underground ball; a high-energy celebration in the LGBTQIA+ community. When Take 3 is set to perform in New Orleans as part of its annual Pride festivities, a bomb threat suddenly thwarts their plans. Despite being on lockdown for security purposes, they manage to sneak into the celebration. Alexandra struts her best Naomi Campbell walk as Miss Bruce (Miss Lawrence), who is outfitted in a sequined top and heels, and performs. Moments like this, as well as shows like FX’s Pose, have helped bring ball culture into the mainstream, highlighting the importance of inclusion and visibility for the LGBTQIA+ community. It’s these pockets of musical excellence — in both sound and situation — that makes Star a diamond in the rough.
In the seemingly limitless wealth of brilliant, small-screen entertainment, Star is a fun break from hyper-dramatic TV content, like This Is Us, or hyper-suspenseful programs, like How To Get Away With Murder. Its ability to handle serious topics with wit makes it worth a watch.