Television

ABC's Baffling Sequel to Romeo and Juliet Fails to Live Up to Bard's Name

Still Star-Crossed gets quietly dumped onto the airwaves like an unwanted pet.

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'Still Star-Crossed'
'Still Star-Crossed,' ABC

Still Star-Crossed. ABC. Wednesday, May 31, 10 p.m.

I cannot say Still Star-Crossed, ABC's aptly named sequel to Romeo and Juliet, was a complete waste of my time. It briefly brought back a memory of the epiphanic moment in college when I learned that a laudatory reference to anal sex was concealed in the bowdlerized version of Romeo and Juliet that we read in my high-school English class. Sadly, this Interwebs thing has practically obliterated delayed gratifications like that one; every 12-year-old in America can now discover what a filthy dog Shakespeare was and get a head start on having him banned from their school curriculums.

Sadly, the previous paragraph pretty much exhausts discussion of any merits of Still Star-Crossed, an opinion which is apparently shared at ABC. The network once considered this Shonda Rhimes project the spearhead of its mid-season replacement corps; instead, it's being dumped out of the car during Memorial Day week, when Neilson ratings sweeps are safely in the past and a good percentage of America is on vacation. If Still Star-Crossed was taken hostage by a hacker the way the way the new Pirates of the Caribbean film reportedly had been, ABC and Disney would probably break out into delighted giggles and spend the promo budget on a karaoke party for the staff.

To be precise in assigning blame for Still Star-Crossed, it was adapted from the 2013 novel of the same name by Melinda Taub (a writer at Full Frontal with Samantha Bee), which I might conceivably read at gunpoint, but only if the caliber was pretty high. The series was produced and written by Heather Mitchell, a veteran of several Rhimes shows whose biography says she once worked as an editor on the "Peanuts" comic strip, perhaps making sure the obscure dialect of Snoopy's pal Woodstock didn't include any secret avian obscenities.

The conceit of Still Star-Crossed is that after Romeo and Juliet kill themselves (oops, spoiler alert), Verona is reeling with political jitters, not to mention murderous swordfights between the warring Capulet and Montague families that erupt about every seven minutes. The local pols decide this can only be cured by an arranged marriage between the two families, notwithstanding that the last wedding involving the two clans ended in a mutual suicide and—well, we get this entire mess.

Minus the occasional scene of Katherine Heigl having sex with a ghost or haggling over malpractice-insurance prices, this sounds like reasonably good fodder for one of Rhimes' glossy, sex-and-murder soap operas.

Instead, Still Star-Crossed is off the tracks from the opening moments. Rhimes' customarily snappy dialogue has been replaced with something that sounds like special-ed Shakespeare, interrupted by the occasional thudding anachronism. (My fave: A Montague yelling at a Capulet, "Maybe this is all on you!" Not exactly up there with, "Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs" or even, "A boy like that would kill your brudder/forget that boy and find anudder.")

Then there's the weird Hamilton-style post-racial casting, with black and white actors playing cousins, brothers, sisters and whatever, as if 16th-century Italy was one big blended utopian family. Call me un-woke, but I found it not just distracting but extremely confusing in a show featuring a collection of indistinguishable 20-somethings, all clad in the same frocks and frills. (It should be admitted that fashion-porn addicts may have a good time watching Still Star-Crossed, as will firebugs—the production's candle budget must have wiped Pottery Barn's stock for the next 10 Christmases.)

About the only member of the cast to stand out in this mess is British TV actress Lashana Lynch, playing Juliet's cousin Rosaline, one of the partners in the forced marriage. Lynch's nationality is fortunate, because like costume-drama Italians since the dawn of Hollywood, every character speaks in the posh British accent of the Cambridge Union debating team. That's one Shakespearean tradition that remains intact in Still Star-Crossed; another is that all are definitely punished.

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