“Still Star-Crossed is fanfiction made for TV.”
Title: Still Star-Crossed
Episodes Reviewed: Season 1
Creator: Heather Mitchell 👩🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Original book by Melinda Taub 👩🏼🇺🇸, TV scripts by Heather Mitchell 👩🏼🇺🇸 (7 eps) and various (4 ♀, 2 ♂, and 1 POC)
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Still Star-Crossed is such a tricky show to score for this category. It is in equal parts a superlative work but also, objectively, kind of trash. True to its Young Adult literary roots, scripting suffers from comical levels of rote predictability and harlequin romance, but sometimes that same attribute works in its favor, producing genuinely heart-melting scenes. When Benvolio (Wade Briggs) offers his cloak to a shivering Rosaline (Lashana Lynch), their ensuing banter is perfection.
In fact, it is precisely this acting by the leads, Lynch and Briggs, that vaults this show into a memorable experience. Support from solid performances by others such as Lord Capulet, played by veteran Anthony Head, or Livia Capulet (Ebonee Noel) helps round out the watchability of the show. No one will deny the mediocre writing, I don’t think. But the chemistry between Benvolio and Rosaline is magic enough to make its audience simply not care.
A word of warning to history buffs: the anachronisms may drive you mad. As a fashion history nerd, I can’t tell you how many gray hairs I got from seeing costume choices that borrow willy-nilly from from the 1500s and 1700s for a show set in the late 1300s. At one point, Lord Capulet even uses the word “propaganda” which wasn’t in use with its modern meaning until the 20th century 😵
Does it pass the Bechdel Test: YES
Rosaline is the strong heroine of Still Star-Crossed, independent in the ways that matter. You won’t find condescending lip service here; she isn’t “fiery” or “feisty”, rather, Rosaline is confident in her actions but believably unsure with her heart. She cares more for her sister than any man. And she does exactly what she wants, but within bounds of her responsibilities to others which displays a depth of writing requisite for a commendable and well-rounded character.
By the numbers, the show does well. The cast and lines of dialogue feel equally distributed between men and women. The only bone I have to pick, unfortunately, is that so many of the women fall into the stereotype of being wily, scheming whisperers into the ears of men. Princess Isabella (Medalion Rahimi) is not a bad person, but she certainly plays the political game and is the less scrupulous of Verona royalty compared to her brother. Lady Capulet (Zuleikha Robinson) is a flat villain who suffers from both overacting and terrible dialogue, turning her scenes into a chore to watch. I hate the word “hysterical”, but she encapsulates it.
The men suffer equally from shallow characterizations, but while Lords Capulet and Montague (Grant Bowler) are devious and immoral in their own ways, they genuinely seek to end their family feud which places them on the side of Good in this simplistic story.
The racebending in this show is spectacular, each scene dripping with opulent diversity. Finally, a period show that doesn’t erase people of color! As Monique Jones writes for Ebony, “Everyone will have the opportunity to realize that yes, black women were everywhere, even 1300s Italy.”
Interracial romances are commonplace, including the primary love story between Benvolio, who is white, and Rosaline, who is black and dark-skinned to boot. Her sister is also dark-skinned. Both characters have the blood of nobility and are largely treated with respect. This embracing of all varieties of “black”, and not just those with lighter complexions or biracial actors, is all part of a bone-deep sense that Still Star-Crossed just gets it. Whether an actor is black, white, South Asian, Middle Eastern, or East Asian—and yes, all these groups have representation on the show!—they are taken at face value as Italians. The only origins that matter in Still Star-Crossed is what city-state the characters hail from, whether it’s Verona, Venice, Mantua, or Padua. This focus on lived experience—where an individual is born, raised, and who they’re related to—feels so much more honest to identity than shallow markers of skin color or hair texture.
The show was cancelled before this relationship really got going, but there were clear indications that Princess Isabella, a major character, was romantically interested in her temporary handmaiden during her stay in Venice. The blonde Venetian helps Isabella outsmart a treacherous situation involving a royal cad who bribes Isabella in exchange for her virginity. The interactions between the handmaiden and Isabella display positive and healthy markers, though their short time together feels a bit stilted, lacking the immediate connection of Benvolio and Rosaline.
Mediaversity Grade: B 4.06/5
Still Star-Crossed is fanfiction, made for TV. It employs the tropiest of romantic tropes: arranged marriages, shared body heat for survival, enemies-turned-lovers, pretend relationships, and just about any other tag I’d happily click on in Archive of Our Own. Like fanfiction, Still Star-Crossed has an addictive quality that, when the romantic leads are well developed and exhibit true electricity, it’s damned hard to put down, bad writing notwithstanding.
I’m heartbroken we don’t get to see more of this budding romance between Benvolio and Rosaline. I haven’t been this engaged with a romantic story arc on TV since I can remember, and it’s a damned shame it was abandoned so quickly. Regardless of the abrupt ending, however, I would still highly recommend a watch. The plot ends on a cliffhanger, but I wasn’t that invested in the plot anyway and the relationships see enough closure that I don’t regret a single moment of visiting my favorite Shondaland jewel yet.