|Lashana Lynch as Lady Rosaline Capulet|
Shondaland's newest family member raised cynical eyebrows when its premise was first revealed: what the story of Romeo and Juliet...hadn't ended with Romeo and Juliet?
Let me start by saying that I am a big fan of Shakespeare. I'm the daughter of an English professor, and before I hit my teens, my father presented me with a giant book containing his complete works. Macbeth was my favorite play to read as a child (I also liked Julius Caesar), but I do recall wondering what happened to the Capulets and Montagues after their kids died. So I'm not surprised author Melissa Taub decided to put pen to paper and made it happen.
Thus, the problem is not the premise of the show. The problem is the handling of said premise.
Shondaland is known for its monologues and light-hearted humor, even when approaching dark subjects. I call it the Buffy Influence, considering what a huge fan Shonda Rhimes is of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy dealt with death and dark magic on a weekly basis, but managed to retain this bizarre, feel-good sense of humor. This translated well into Grey's Anatomy and the first two seasons of Scandal. It didn't translate into How to Get Away with Murder because there's nothing really "funny" about that show. Crazy, sure, but not funny.
A story like Still Star-Crossed, when adapted for a jaded American 21st Century audience, does not work well with lofty music and cheerful colors. The king of the city-state of Verona is dead. His inexperienced son is about to take the throne. That alone makes Verona vulnerable, but on top of that, her two (I'm assuming) wealthiest and most powerful families can't stop racking up a body count. Remember: Shakespeare never clarified what the feud was originally about to begin with, so the Capulets and Montagues have been fighting for generations and don't even know what the hell they're fighting about.
What's worse, they're almost like the Democrats and Republicans of their day, because the Verona is split with various houses supporting either side. And if the new young king, Escalus, can't restore order, then he risks being conquered by his rivals in Florence and Venice.
I don't know about you guys, but I don't see anything cheery, bubbly, or feel-good about this scenario. Shondaland should've gone dark with this show and not even bothered with any attempts at humor. It would've represented a new direction with their writing style, and their ability to adapt to a changing audience, rather than relying on the same themes they've been using for over a decade.
If you haven't seen the show yet, SSC looks like Once Upon a Time, but with a bigger budget. That sounds great in theory, but like I said, bright and cheery doesn't work for this story. SSC was apparently filmed in Carceres, Spain, a town "filled with Gothic towers, Renaissance architecture and cobble streets" (source). So they should've just gone Goth.
In the age of the Montagues and Capulets, Verona is a city of death and despair, strung taut by generations of tension. Instead of giving us sweeping shots of bright skies and the "fair" city, give us claustrophobic shots of a dreary city ready to snap at any moment. Show people huddled in confessionals, at the tombs of loved ones; open the story with a somber, elegant funeral of the old king. Evoke the weariness of Verona's internal strife. It would give both the actors and writers much more to work with.
|Ebonée Noel as Livia Capulet (left)|
Since both actresses are dark-skinned (thank you, Shondaland), I would've put them in white. Rosaline and Livia have lost both parents, recently buried their cousin Juliet, and their aunt has them working as servants in the Capulet home. White clothes would've added a ghostly aspect to the sisters. You've got Livia mourning the good life she would've had if she weren't an orphan, and Rosaline pining to move to a nunnery to hide behind its walls. When Rosaline's status is "restored" so she can marry a Montague, Lord Capulet moves her into her dead cousin's room. Like...the morbidity of this story has so much potential!!!
The Overall Treatment
Despite its shortcomings, SSC deserves better. ABC should've shown it more support, promoting it more often and NOT changing the night it airs. Fans should've been given a chance to take it in, mull it over, and offer suggestions to make it better.
And (White) critics should've stopped pretending that their main issue is the writing and not the casting. Miss me with that. While ripping SSC apart (and so many have taken pleasure in coming for this show), some praised the CW's Reign and STARZ's The White Princess - you have GOT to be kidding me. Reign is your typical self-indulgent CW hot mess, and it will not be missed after its final season. The White Princess is a snorefest. It's even more boring than its predecessor, The White Queen, and that's saying something.
But since both shows have not only White leads but White casts, it's okay. They somehow deserve to be given second chances.
But a similar show with a Black lead deserves to be banished three episodes in. Mm-hm. If Rosaline Capulet was a basic Becky, we would not be having this conversation.
We have sat through years of Basic Beckistani Bitches, and now it's the Black girl's turn. We've watched White women be as mediocre as milk toast, season after season, decade after decade, while being told how awesome and beautiful and compelling they are. Meanwhile, when Black women are the lead, we're expected to be twice as compelling and even when we are, we still risk being punished for it. No, ma'am.
I think Shonda Rhimes should put her foot down, and demand that SSC be renewed and given a chance to correct its mistakes. If Julie Plec can make us sit through 8 years of The Vampire Diaries, then we can sit through at least half that for Still Star-Crossed. After all, we're used to get half.
Shout-out to Anthony Stewart Head
Like I said, Shonda is a huge Buffy fan and loves casting its alumni. Casting the guy who played Rupert "the Ripper" Giles as Lord Capulet is a major win for Shondaland. Anthony Stewart Head is basically Buffy royalty, and despite the lackluster writing on SSC, his acting remains top notch. I will watch him in pretty much anything. He was my reason for watching Buffy in the first place; in college I developed a HUGE crush on him.
If SSC gets canceled, they better bring him back in something else.