There are two things about “The Devil You Know,” the second episode of the Lee Daniels’ branded Star, that are entirely indicative of the show on the whole. The first is Naomi Campbell, a veteran of Empire and diva legend. Campbell is all looks — dig that Twiggy wig! — and shade — Naomi versus Miss Lawrence, I die! — but there’s not much else there. Star, like Naomi, can be flashy and fun to look at, but take away the histrionics and that propelled the pilot — drug use! Murder! Strip clubs! — and there’s not much else going for it. “The Devil You Know” committed the greatest sin a soap can: It was boring, meaning the only way it’s watchable is when it’s going full force crazy, and no show can sustain that kind of momentum.
The other moment in “The Devil You Know” that exemplified the series as a whole is one of Lenny Kravitz line readings. As rock star Roland Crane, it’s not far off to think that Kravitz’s character could be all grand pronouncements and cool cliches but it was painful listening to Kravitz say, “Everyone wants to be a star, Star.” Kravitz is not a seasoned actor by any means, but he’s shown great restraint in Daniel’s Precious (his major acting debut that also happened to feature a lowkey Mariah Carey) and brought his laidback cool to a frank talk about white privilege in Better Things. He’s essentially play what seems like a douchier version of himself and he can’t pull off that wooden line that drops so heavily as he says it. It’s lines like these that are supposed to seem cool, but they are so awkward even Kravitz can rub off on them.
“The Devil You Know” shifts the focus away from Star onto Alexandra, who has been lying to everyone about her pedigree, telling anyone who will listen that her mom is dead and that her dad is a doctor. But Dad is a rock star and mom is would-be model who carries around a cheap bottle of vodka like a designer purse. Life may have been hard for Simone — who was raped by her foster father — and Star, who was bounced from home to home, but Alexandra had it tough too, this episode tells, and the constructed family she’s got from her girl group is more important than the one that birthed her. It’s symbolized in a way, by the dance-dream sequence that seems like it will be a regular occurrence throughout the show. “Groove Is In The Heart,” a song that was popular presumably years before she was even born, becomes the soundtrack to her vogue session with Carlotta’s employees. Despite the poor costume choice that seemed to hinder her moves, she gets a certain freedom out of her voguing, just like the ballroom kids in Harlem Daniels and company are cribbing off of.
These dream-song sequences still feel out of place, if only because they’re slap-dashed up against the show’s forced grittiness. Even so, the “Groove is in the Heart” number felt lively compared to the banality of the usual family drama of a rich girl rebelling against her silver spoon in a way that wraps itself up all too nicely by the end of the episode. That’s the problem with “The Devil You Know” after the high octane premiere: Its second episode is already a retread on well worn territory. The other characters are largely pushed to the side to play out Alexandra’s parental problems, and even Simone’s fourth quarter overdose couldn’t keep this episode feeling like this episode had any spark to it. Carlotta is relegated to chatting with her hot pastor (Tyrese Gibson) in a way that stops her from livening up the episode as she had before. Jahlil attempts to shakedown some money from his underdeveloped football-playing godson, and then the strip club madame, who gives him a shady task.
Then there’s Star who opts to take a bubble bath, but doesn’t sleep with Roland. She couldn’t have slept with him. That would have put her in an irredeemable position with Alexandra, and makes an already abrasive character less likable. Yet, we still get the bubble bath because, as Star tells Alexandra, “I did not sleep with him, but I am a whore,” another one of the those lines that cannot possibly be delivered with any sort of finesse. Star ends up in a rock star’s bath with no consequences or actions in order to create a superficial tension that serves no purpose other than to continually sexualize her (as if the constant lollipop fixation wasn’t enough).
The show’s last few moments point to a more exciting third entry than “The Devil You Know,” but it’s not a good sign that the show couldn’t handle putting the brakes on plot twists and shock value in only its second episode.
- If you’re looking for some excellent Daniels criticism, I suggest Myles E. Johnson on Daniels’ desire to remake Paris is Burning.
- I’m looking forward to the dramatic twist when Star’s love of lollipops gives her some wicked cavities.