Shonda Rimes, creator of hit dramas Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and Scandal, is out with a new show that asks: what happened to the Capulets and Montagues after Romeo and Juliet? Did they make peace as they promised, or did the war continue even worse than before?
Well, peace doesn’t make very good television, so here we are in STILL STAR-CROSSED with the never-ending feud of the Montagues versus the Capulets, with Rosaline as our protagonist.
First of all, I’m glad they made Rosaline the main character; it always seemed terrible that her only purpose in the original play – really, just the purpose of her name, as she never appeared on stage! – was simply to serve as a contrast for Romeo’s love for Juliet. But here she is front and center, intelligent and brave, played beautifully by Lashana Lynch – one of the many notable changes to the original play this adaptation (based on a book by Melissa Taub) offers up.
We open on the wedding of Romeo and Juliet, with Rosaline and Benvolio as witness. The marriage commences, but we get the feeling all is not as it seems when afterwards Friar Lawrence turns to a messenger and says, “Tell him it’s done.” Who’s “him”? Is the friar playing both sides? What’s going on?
With that intriguing teaser, Acts I and II unfortunately rush through the rest of the familiar story, up to Romeo and Juliet’s funeral. At first I wondered, why not just start at Romeo and Juliet’s deaths? We’re just retreading a story we already know. But then again, we need those scenes to introduce us to all the characters so we understand the depth of the conflict that arises when we come to the funeral. So, in choosing character development over speed, I’m glad the creators picked character development, but it still slows the narrative down, which is not a good thing, especially for a pilot episode.
The production looks beautiful; the set design and costumes are stunning, and the use of lighting, especially with candles, is very well done. One aspect that bothered me, though, was some of the cinematography; the transition from one scene to the next is ducking out of the building, flying over the city, and swooping into the next building. While I appreciate the effort to highlight the scope of the production, it gives what’s supposed to be a timeless story a very 90’s feel. If it transitioned by just cutting between scenes, I don’t think the show would lose anything.
Some notable changes from the play: Rosaline is both a Capulet and a servant in the Capulet household, along with her sister, Livia; Paris isn’t dead, only wounded; Prince Escalus is a newly-crowned ruler; Rosaline and Escalus have a romantic history; and, my personal favorite development, Lord Montague was secretly in on the plot to wed Romeo and Juliet. Scandal and palace intrigue, oh, my!
I’m interested to get to know the characters as the series goes on. As Mercutio, my favorite character in the play, obviously dies pretty early on in the pilot, Benvolio seems to have stepped in to provide that kind of snarky, irreverent personality – different to his character in the play, but necessary for this show’s character dynamics.
Because the timeline of events is so compressed, Romeo comes across as getting overly stabby when his emotions run too high – he kills Tybalt, and then, of course, Paris (or so we think at first), which in the play constitutes a few days, but in the pilot’s running time, it’s only a few minutes! While Romeo is a bit one-dimensional, though, I really love Clara Rugaard’s take on Juliet – the scene where she’s trying to avoid going to the ball so she can see Romeo is hilarious.
It’s really a shame these actors seem to have been cast for roles that didn’t last that long. Will we only see them in flashback for the rest of the season? Although – I did notice, in Romeo and Juliet’s death scene, Juliet takes the rest of the poison Romeo has instead of stabbing herself with the dagger like she does in the play. Does this mean Romeo and Juliet could have pulled their own trick and faked their own deaths, showing up again sometime towards the end of the season? Given Rimes’ history of sensational twists like that, I wouldn’t be surprised!
It should be intriguing to see how Rosaline navigates court politics over the rest of the season. Her romantic past with Escalus is probably the furthest the plot ventures from the original, but it serves its purpose in keeping the families’ conflict and Verona’s court politics bound together. We get our obligatory love triangle with Rosaline, Escalus, and Benvolio, although it may be made more interesting by the fact that Benvolio is legitimately attracted to her and not just trying to marry her to please his father (at least I think that’s where they’re going to go with it). I’m a thousand times more intrigued by Lord Montague as a character with his plot to unite Montagues and Capulets under the Montague name – that takes some dastardly planning. And (this bothered me during the episode) where is Lady Montague??
I think we forget that Shakespeare’s writing in its time, far from being considered great literature, was entertainment for theaters that served both nobles and peasants, dramatized and sensationalized as the stage demands. If anyone knows how to do scandal and drama, it’s Shonda Rimes, which is why I think Still Star-Crossed could end up being a great fit.
Season 1, Episode 1 (S01E01)
Still Star-Crossed airs Mondays at 10PM on ABC
Cailin is a screenwriter and an aspiring TV writer. When not writing, she’s busy convincing random passersby that Firefly was the best show ever, converting her co-workers into Whovians, and waiting for the next season of Sherlock.
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Cailin Coane | Contributor