It’s an odd thing to be trying to watch a show through a critical lens and think “Wow, I honestly expected Simone’s OD fever dream to be a lot more fun than this.” But here we are with Star. In an episode bookended by two musical numbers, one filled with forced emotion and sap, the other fun and ridiculous, you get to see why Star works in these weird moments broken reality and totally falls flat for the rest of the running time.
The first song, a ballad, was overly serious, resurrecting Star and Simone’s very blonde mother so they could all trio together, if only in Simone’s mind. Star and Simone’s mom looks like she’s straight out of the ‘70s, which is weird considering these girls were definitely born in the late ‘90/early aughts, but the ‘70s were more considerably more glamourous than that time frame so we’ll forgive the hair and costuming. It’s a forgettable song, a drag to start an episode that could have continued the momentum of the previous episode but puts a stop to it with the ballad.
But at the end of the episode, I get the fever dream I yearned for, as the girls bring recording equipment to Simone to get their demo recorded in time to enter this vague festival when their studio session with Big Boi (you can’t really set a hip hop musical in Atlanta and not include at least one member of Outkast) fall through. Clad in hospital gowns and fabulous teal, knee-high lace up boots, Star, Simone and Alexandra get down with orderlies and emote their hearts out that demonstrates one of the few glimmers of joy that this series has allowed us to have. Even the song was really good, a catch don’t-need-no-man girl group staple that played with the imagery of Simone-as-crazy one. I understand that Star wants to go gritty and real, but when the show allows itself to have a modicum of fun, it’s so much more enjoyable to watch.
This joy suck is perhaps why the show seems to come to a screeching halt whenever Tyrese’s pastor enters a scene. Props to Star for tackling complicated issues of faith and redemption from people have clawed their way to a serviceable, if not, good place. But whenever he starts to offer platitudes, the show slows to a halt, and even it’s more scandalous shocks are deflated for a monologue about being a better person. He’s inelegantly wedged into the plot in order to make room for these worthy discussions of faith, much like Alexandra’s activist boy toy brings up the realities of being a black man in America while mid-make out session. These conversations are important and these moment rare in primetime, and necessary, but I wish they were more seamlessly incorporated into the general plot of the show, rather than thrown in to make the character feel relevant.
Perhaps the show is trying to add a bit of fun. The running gag of Carlotta’s constantly changing hair is quickly becoming one of my favorite aspect of the show. The teal faux hawk was a particular favorite but the bronze bob also looked fabulous on Queen Latifah. But as I was admiring her teal creation, Carlotta and Cotton fight about Cotton’s gender. It’s a big conversation — a mother trying to deal with her child’s gender transition, a child trying to explain to her mother who she really is — but it’s shoved in between Simone’s OD drama and Jahil’s supposed forays into human trafficking.
This is a show that only has three episodes under its belt and I already feel lost in a sea of plots, and I only care about a scant few of them. And one of them is definitely not Hunter Morgan, who keeps showing up, but has little to no consequences on the plot at all. And while I’d love for Star to embrace this campy fun side of itself, I don’t see that happening, if Jahil’s newest roadblock — a young Latina woman who Jahil was supposed to smuggle tracks him down after he does not complete his promised trafficking task — is any indication, there will be heavier topics ahead that will hopefully be handled with a little more care than the other hot button topics that pop up throughout the show and then are dropped in order to make room for another one.
- Brittany O’Grady, who plays Simone, is the most compelling of the girls. Jude Demorest (Star) overemotes constantly while Ryan Destiny (Alexandra) can often fall flat. But Simone is consistently compelling and not just because her eyebrows are perfect.