If Shonda Rhimes has her way, the violent delights of Shakespeare’s famous doomed affair will really never end. But judging by the pilot of Still Star-Crossed, an adaptation of Melinda Taub’s novel that imagines the aftermath of Romeo and Juliet’s deaths, Shondaland’s latest product is neither soapy romance nor gut-wrenching tragedy, but a sluggish, stilted mess.
The premise has all the makings of a juicy drama for writer-producer Heather Mitchell (Scandal) to work with: Rosaline Capulet (Lashana Lynch), the unrequited love of Romeo (Lucien Laviscount) in the 1597 play, is recast as a plucky heroine working as a servant for her evil aunt Lady Capulet (Zuleikha Robinson). Rosaline is desperate to leave that life, and she almost does — until she’s saddled with the prospect of ending fair Verona’s biggest feud by marrying the late Romeo’s playboy cousin, Benvolio Montague (Wade Briggs). What’s a woman uninterested in marriage and without a noble title to do? Should she flee before Verona burns? Pursue her true love, Prince Escalus (Sterling Sulieman)? And how does she feel about abandoning Juliet (Clara Rugaard) after she drank poison?
The premiere — the only episode screened for critics — takes too long to pose these questions. Instead, it treats Rosaline’s plight as a frivolous subplot while the events of the play’s final act dominate the episode. Once Romeo and Juliet do die (you knew that was coming), the drama instills a whiplash-inducing shift from telling the Bard’s tale to spinning a new one — with flashbacks, just for added complication. Add an invented mystery involving Lady Capulet tending to Count Paris (Torrance Coombs), and even Shakespeare’s biggest devotees will be confused. (For starters, why is Paris even alive?) The series boasts a diverse cast and takes advantage of its lavish costumes and Spanish sets, but the dialogue falls flat. Then again, the course of TV adaptations never did run smooth. C
Still Star-Crossed premieres Monday, May 29 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.