Shonda Rhimes has brought ABC enough success – producing “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” – to earn creative latitude. But “Still Star-Crossed,” her new soap that seeks to pick up where “Romeo and Juliet” left off, feels like an over-reach, a show for English lit majors whose parting won’t evoke much sorrow, sweet or otherwise.
Handsomely shot, mounted and cast, the premiere chronicles the romance of Romeo and Juliet’s tragic end, then continues into the ongoing feud between the Montagues and Capulets. The rift leads to scheming and swordplay aplenty, with some time left over for old-fashioned bodice-ripping trysts.
What “Star-Crossed” can’t do, at least in the early going, is provide much incentive to care about its characters, despite the appealing Anthony Head and Zuleikha Robinson as Lord and Lady Capulet, Grant Bowler as Lord Montague and Lashana Lynch as Juliet’s cousin Rosalind, who gets caught in the middle of a plan to save the fair city of Verona.
The diverse casting is notably color-blind, but to borrow a line from another of the Bard’s works, the fault here doesn’t lie with its stars. Adapted from Melinda Taub’s book by Rhimes veteran writer-producer Heather Mitchell, the premiere (which is all that ABC made available) is so busy it’s difficult to track what’s happening – especially the loves and allegiances of the younger players – without a scorecard.
Charitably, one suspects ABC is taking a bit of a flyer on the show, hoping to get lucky with a series that exhibits some of the same ambition as pay and streaming dramas by scheduling it after “The Bachelorette.” Besides, the original story has survived 420 years, so this Shakespeare guy must have been onto something. (As an aside, another period drama about Shakespeare, TNT’s “Will,” is due in July.)
Wedding the material to Rhimes’ florid style of drama, however, comes across mostly as a marriage of convenience. While that might have looked like a clever strategy on paper, much like its ill-fated lovers, it’s difficult to envision “Still Star-Crossed” enjoying a happy ending.
“Still Star-Crossed” premieres May 29 at 10 p.m. on ABC.