This review contains spoilers.
There are good shows and bad shows, but there are also shows that surpass expectations and shows that fall woefully short of potential. Unfortunately, though The CW’s latest stab at supernatural high school romance, Star-Crossed, has every chance of being the next Vampire Diaries or Reign and actually developing into something worth watching week to week, the premiere episode belongs in the latter category. There are a lot of great ideas, competent young actors and a pleasing dollop of daring in the show’s first hour but then, despite this, all of the good things have to fight to get noticed over the bad.
So, getting the disappointing stuff out of the way first, Star-Crossed is by its very nature a dated high school show, with a compilation of actors from other series just to draw attention to this fact. We have Aimee Teegarden from Friday Night Lights, Malese Jow from Vampire Diaries, Matt Lanter from 90210, Grey Damon from everything and a whole host of other guest stars/recurring characters who are noticeably recognisable for anyone who’s been paying attention to the US teen drama scene over the last few years. That wouldn’t be a drawback, but I think the show has ambitions above and beyond this target audience.
The CW has crafted an entire business model around the popularity of supernatural romance shows, but Star-Crossed, in all its efforts to say something important/new, fails to step out from the shadow of previous series like Roswell, with which it bears much resemblance. It’s one of those shows that always appear at the tail-end of a trend, like everything that followed Lost, but fails to move the genre forward any further. Does anyone actually want or need another Romeo and Juliet-with-a-twist stories that inevitable develops into an ever-revolving love triangle that happens to include an alien? I’m the ultimate CW apologist, and I’m not even sure I do.
But that’s a bit unfair, because Star-Crossed also has a lot going for it. As with the previously mentioned Reign, there are new ways to present the aged high school soap if a few tweaks are made, and propelling the action ten years into the future is an effective way of doing so. The futuristic flourishes are subtle enough to please sci-fi geeks without becoming a distraction and the extent of technological and societal changes has obviously been worked out beforehand (that might sound like faint praise, but not when so many shows don’t even seem to bother), and the idea of a group of alien teenagers, the Atrian Seven, being integrated into the school system with other, unwelcoming, kids obviously has shades of American history, also.
The story is relatively simple – an alien race has crash landed on earth and humans have attempted to deal with the new arrivals in the best way they know how – control, strict laws and segregation. On the day of the crash, a human child, Emery (Teegarden), befriends one of the Atrians, Roman (Lanter), and years later they are reunited on the first day of school. The love story is obviously coming, given that both of them are outsiders (Emery has spent the last four years in hospital with a vague, yet-to-be-explained disorder) and, you know, ‘star-crossed’, and cool kid Grayson provides the third point to their developing triangle.
As an exploration of fraught race relations in America, Star-Crossed has good intentions but emerges pretty toothless in practice. People have been critical of the show for its old-fashioned perspective and shaky character introductions, but experience has taught us all to give shows like this more of a chance. It all hinges on how much focus the love triangle gets over the admittedly intriguing genre stuff but I, for one, have hopes for the future after the final twist.
There are things that could well start to bring the stronger elements of the show to the fore, and this premiere should have enough promise to keep open-minded sci-fi fans and teen drama enthusiasts coming back for a while at least. This premiere wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t bad either, and we’ll have to wait and see whether Star-Crossed has bitten off more than it can chew with big ideas and sci-fi concepts, or whether it can improve on itself in the coming weeks.