Star Premiere Recap: The Rise Of A Supergroup

Photo: Fox
One of the biggest challenges of creating a show in which the characters rise to musical superstardom is that the songs within the series have to sound like believable hits. Fortunately for Lee Daniels' follow-up to Empire, the songs within Star sound like they would crack the Top 40 — and the girl group at the center of the action might as well be called Destiny's Child 2.0. But before we can get to the music that fuels the show and the titular character's dreams, let's get into the nitty-gritty of the episode — one that includes plenty of heavy stuff before we hear any of the awesome music.

Our window into this world is Star (Jude Demorest), a girl with a dream and a terrible home life in the foster care system. After demanding release from the system, Star sets off to find her long-missing half-sister, Simone (Brittany O'Grady), who is living in a personal hell of her own. When Star finds Simone being molested by her foster father, she does what any good sister would do: she stabs him to death and tells Simone to never think of the incident again.

There's zero reason to reconsider the murder you just committed when you're about to be famous — which Star believes they will be, thanks to the songs written by her Instagram bestie, Alexandra (Ryan Destiny). Alexandra lives a privileged life in New York City with her big-deal musician father (Lenny Kravitz), but what she really wants is to write music that feeds her own soul. Star and Simone have just the voices to round out the girl group Alexandra wants to put together, so Star picks up the Manhattan princess and the trio set off to start a new life in Atlanta.

The Atlanta music scene seems like the perfect place to start their careers, but that's not the only reason why Star picks the Georgia city as her launchpad. Star's churchgoing godmother, Carlotta (Queen Latifah), runs a beauty shop in the city. Though she's not thrilled with Star's reckless pursuit of her musical dreams, she allows the three girls to stay with her.

While the series is seemingly set in the present day (the iPhones and Instagram references are a pretty big clue), Carlotta narrates the series in past tense. As we hear in her foreboding narration, Carlotta warned Star that fame was "a trip" — but Star, being as one-track minded as we know her to be, wouldn't listen. Hmm. What's Carlotta foreshadowing? And just as importantly, from where and when?

After a week with Carlotta, the group isn't getting anywhere — only scolded for improperly shampooing hair and rehearsing like crazy under Alexandra's strict schedule. The group is fantastic, as are Alexandra's songs — but performing them at an amateur night in one of Atlanta's more questionable bars isn't going to get them anywhere. Carlotta's daughter, Cotton (Amiyah Scott) recognizes their talent and encourages Star to come with her to a strip club, where she can talk to a music-industry big shot in the Champagne room.

Sketchy? Totally, especially considering Star is just shy of 18. However, Star's Champagne-room adventure also leads to the best number of the pilot. As Star sings for the talent manager, she envisions a Beyoncé-esque music video (complete with the club's strippers as her background dancers, naturally) for the track "I Bring Me." It's wonderful — only offset by the fact that it ends with a kiss between Star and the much, much older manager. Star's risk ultimately pays off: the manager, who we'll come to know as Jahil Rivera (Benjamin Bratt) invites Star and the girls to perform at NFL player Hunter Morgan's party later that week.

Cotton's night doesn't end quite as well. In a disturbing scene, Star finds her, a trans woman, being beaten up by the man she was hooking up with behind the strip club. Fortunately, the ever-scrappy Star knocks her attacker on the ground, knees him in the groin with her heel, and tells Cotton to fetch her money. When she returns home with a black eye, Carlotta warns her not to do what Carlotta knows she's doing at that club. It's obvious Cotton won't listen to her mother, which means this story is far from over.
Meanwhile, Carlotta is less than thrilled by Star's announcement that Jahil may sign the trio. We soon find out why: it turns out that Jahil was once the manager of the girl group that Carlotta and Star's mother's were in. Clearly, they didn't end their working relationship on good terms. Jahil is also not exactly the man he claimed to be to Star: despite his famous connections, he's looking for a group to redeem him after his own managing career went south. Carlotta won't have Star and Simone being his new project, however. She tells Jahil to stay in his lane and pulls a Glock on him to show she means business.

Yet, as Carlotta said, there's no telling Star what to do. The group goes to their first big gig, set up by Jahil. After a mild flirtation between Star and Hunter (Chad Buchanan), the trio turns it out for a show-stopping number. Apparently, that single week of rehearsing did them well, because Jahil is all in: "I've been asleep for the last 10 years," the manager says after seeing the girls shimmy in their sequins. Carlotta will not be happy about that.

It'll be more than just an overbearing Carlotta standing in Star's path to fame. Star's belief that the past can stay in her rearview mirror reveals a major crack when Simone's foster father — the one that Star "killed" in the beginning of the pilot — wakes up in the hospital with a cop looming over him. When will TV characters learn to check for a pulse?

Much like Star's girl group, Fox's latest musical drama had a strong debut. I arrived for the music, but stayed for the drama — of which there promises to be plenty.

Some things to think about before going into episode 2:

— Alexandra's love interest:
It's only briefly touched upon in the pilot, but Alexandra's budding relationship with Carlotta's next-door neighbor, Derek (Quincy Brown, son of Sean Combs and Kim Porter), might be exactly what Alexandra needs to feel like she's making a real difference in the world. Derek is an activist (he hands her a flier for the Black Lives Matter protest he's going to that week) and one whose world perspective is vastly different than the one her wealthy upbringing provides.

— The timeline: As far as we know, this show takes place in 2016. But does it have to? Carlotta's narration suggests maybe not. Perhaps the series will pull a This Is Us and reveal that the series is actually taking place years earlier than we assume. We know it has to take place around 2011, due to the Instagram reference alone, but Carlotta could be narrating the story five years into the future — after Star and the girls skyrocketed to fame, perhaps?

— Simone's substance abuse problem: It's mostly played for laughs in the pilot, but Simone is almost perpetually drunk or high. That's particularly disturbing, given that Star and Simone's mother died of a drug overdose. Unlike Star, who is a little rough around the edges, but mostly together, Simone is childlike and still searching for a mother to replace the one she lost. Simone might not be ready for the stuff Star wants to throw her way.

— Everything Jahil: Was anyone else praying that Jahil wouldn't be revealed to be Star's biological father?! Carlotta had me nervous there. Still, Jahil definitely did something to piss Carlotta off enough for her to bring a gun to his home. Did he betray Carlotta's girl group in some way? Get Star's mom hooked on drugs?

— Subtle, but important social commentary: The show makes clear that it will be tackling issues within the trans community when it showed Cotton's assault. With Derek as the show's activist, I wouldn't be surprised if Star continued to showcase real-world issues.

Seriously, the music is amazing: Need it on my gym playlist like, yesterday.
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