Just as ABC has discovered its niche as the go-to network for nighttime soaps, The CW has discovered that genre series aimed at teens and tweens (and those 20- and 30-somethings who can't let go of The WB) are their cash crops. The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural—currently in their fifth and ninth seasons, respectively—have done very well for the network. In the fall, it added two new genre series to its ranks with The Originals, a TVD spin-off that just earned a second season, and the The Tomorrow People, a remake of a British science-fiction series from the '70s. And now the network is attempting to travel even further into sci-fi territory with the alien drama Star-Crossed. Unfortunately, it's so far off the mark that it almost would've been better if The CW had saved it for a blow-off summer series and moved up The 100, a much better sci-fi show that's slated to debut in March.
Set in the near future in the year 2024, Star-Crossed centers on two teenagers, one human and one alien, who are connected by their past. The backstory is relatively simple: A spacecraft full of refugees from the planet Atria (not Atari) crash-landed in Baton Rouge in May 2014, and the people of Louisiana—and by extension, the United States—quickly rounded up all surviving Atrians (also not The Ataris) and forced them to reside in a militarized sector. But on the night of the crash, a young boy escaped the scene and took refuge in a nearby shed. He was discovered and befriended by a young girl, who fed him cold spaghetti until he was ultimately found and (seemingly) killed right in front of her. We saw all this happen in the pilot, which then flashed forward ten years to where the series really began, as seven Atrian teens—including the boy we believed to be dead, who's now a very good-looking teenager—were being integrated into the human school system.
Anyone who's ever taken a middle school U.S. history class can see Star-Crossed's obvious parallels to the Little Rock Nine (the students are even called the Atrian Seven), but for those of you who slept your way through school or perhaps aren't familiar with American civil rights history, let me help you out. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education that laws pertaining to racial segregation in educational establishments were unconstitutional, and ordered the desegregation of schools throughout the nation. Three years later, in 1957, a group of nine African-Americans students were all set to be enrolled at Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. But the process did not, as you might imagine, go very smoothly. They were initially barred from entering the school by the Arkansas National Guard, who were acting on orders of the state's governor, and only after the intervention of President Dwight D. Eisenhower were they admitted to the building and allowed to enroll. But even then, their lives were full of torment; one student had acid thrown in her face and was nearly set on fire in the girls' restroom. Lots of people were a**holes in 1957, basically.
None of these things happened in Star-Crossed's series premiere, but the Atrian Seven faced a similar level of hatred and distrust simply because they were viewed as being different. Although they look and appear human in nearly every single way, they're immediately distinguishable from humans because of their unique facial tattoos. And While I commend the The CW for attempting to tackle the topic of race relations—which isn't a super common occurrence on TV, especially on a network that's generally more concerned with pretty faces than anything else—Star-Crossed really dropped the ball. Its biggest flaw is that, in its debut hour, it let important questions of humanity, common decency, and racism take a backseat to yet another silly love story between two teenagers who are literally from two different worlds (and yes, one of them actually uttered the line, "We're from two different worlds").
Maybe I'm asking too much from a series on The CW, but we've seen the network address darker, more serious subjects on shows like The Vampire Diaries and Arrow. And who knows, Star-Crossed could still turn out to be another series that's silly on the surface but interesting underneath. I understand that love triangles pretty much pay the network's bills—and the pilot put the pieces in motion for a major one between Matt Lanter's Roman (an Atrian hunk), Aimee Teegarden's Emery (an attractive human girl), and Grey Damon's Grayson (Emery's mostly-accepting-of-Atrians human friend)—but if they just wanted another teen romance, why go through the trouble of reminding viewers of the darkest periods in American history? The militarized sector where the Atrians live was obviously reminiscent of the internment camps that were established following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, and the racism displayed by several teens and adults was a sad reminder of how terrible people can be. Star-Crossed has the potential to do some compelling stuff, but it's going to take a lot of work.
There was, however, one moment in the pilot that stood out to me as a make-or-break moment, depending on how it's dealt with in future episodes. Ray Whitehill, Emery's father and a member of the Sector Enforcement Unit, shot and killed Nox, Roman's father and a leader of the Atrians, believing that Nox was going to attack. In reality, Nox was attempting to stop another man from striking against the sector's guards. If Star-Crossed can find a way to make Nox's death an inciting incident for change instead of just a wrench in the overall love triangle, the series might be able to salvage what it's got. I'm not particularly hopeful, but the chance is there nonetheless.
At the outset, Star-Crossed seems dead set on telling the story of its literal star-crossed lovers as if they're a modern day Romeo and Juliet, instead of exploring the plight of the Atrians. And that's fine, because this is a show on The CW and not, say, the second coming of Battlestar Galactica, which was a beacon of greatness in the way it tackled what it means to be human. But even compared to the rest of the network's fare, Star-Crossed is lacking. The characters are flat, and the acting isn't much better. I enjoyed Aimee Teegarden's work on Friday Night Lights, but now I'm thinking her performance on that show was more a result of the quality of FNL's writing than her strengths as an actress. If Star-Crossed suddenly reboots in Episode 2 and starts tackling tougher questions about racism and humanity instead of who will make a better boyfriend, then I'll be happy to revisit it. Unfortunately, I know how The CW operates, and I just don't think that's going to happen.
– Star-Crossed appears to have a very, very optimistic outlook for technology in the year 2024... but was that a Roomba I saw traveling down the hallway at school? It wasn't even a DJ Roomba!
– There was a joke about Atrians having three penises. It wasn't funny, and only made me think about Taco's Three Penis Wine from The League.
– When mixed with saffron, the blood of the Atrians has magical healing powers. Uhhhhkay.
– LOL at Jesse Luken—who plays Jimmy, Boyd Crowder's number two on Justified—appearing as a teenage bully on Star-Crossed. GO BACK TO HARLAN, DUDE.
What'd you think of Star-Crossed's series premiere? Will you be back for Episode 2?
AIRED ON 5/12/2014
Season 1 : Episode 13