Feb 19 2014 12:00pm

Do the Stars Align for Star-Crossed?

Aliens have gotten the short shrift on television in the last few years. As has the science fiction part of SFF, for that matter. Star-Crossed (CW, Mon 8p), loosely inspired by Romeo and Juliet, attempts to rectify that imbalance, with moderate success. As an episode of television, this particular pilot does its job. It introduces the key players and sets up the central conflict—interspecies conflict versus moony love—while hinting at a much larger and more sinister conspiracy looming at the edges. But what you really want to know is if it’s worth watching. All I can tell you is yeah, sure, why not.

The pilot episode kicks off in the middle of Arrival Day with a tense standoff between frightened aliens and gun-toting humans. The Atrians, a species that basically looks human but with tribal-esque face tattoos and hipster fashion sense—fled their dying planet only to crash land in Baton Rouge. If that doesn’t prove how unfortunate their species is, I don’t know what will. Not only are they stuck in a Louisiana apparently populated almost entirely by non-Southern-accented white people, but they don’t even get to be in the fun New Orleans part. (Presumably because The Originals were already filming there.) A gunfight ensues and 6-year-old Roman flees the scene and conveniently ends up in the garage of precocious Emery, a little girl battling some unnamed illness. I think I’d like her better had she fed him Reese’s Pieces instead of cold spaghetti—way to waste a perfect opportunity, Emery. Roman gets shot by a bunch of soldiers and carted off to who knows where. Emery, of course, thinks he’s dead. Roman, of course, isn’t.

Ten years later, the wee tots have aged into very pretty actors who look far too old to be playing teenagers. Our hunky young Montague is now part of “The Atrian 7,” a group of alien kids being used as assimilation guinea pigs. The plan, as formulated by Roman’s father and a human woman who is probably going to try to kill everyone very soon, is to have the aliens and humans learn to live side by side. It’s all very Little Rock Nine, with all irony lost on the fact that almost all the main characters on both the human and Atrian side are white while the Probably Evil Woman leading the assimilation is Black. Needless to say, since all this takes place in the in a Southern state with a terrible history of race relations, this comes off less as an homage to our past—no one even mentions desegregation—and more like appropriation.

As fate would have it, now that our doe-eyed Capulet’s mystery sickness has been cured or regressed, the teens end up at the same school. There’s more arguing between the humans and Atrians utilizing all the typical tropes—the bullying jerkwad (Tybalt), his BFF who’s also in love with Emery (Paris), the non-threatening Black guy (Nurse), the bitter forgotten love interest (Rosalind), the hothead aching for conflict (Mercutio), the tragic peacemaker (Benvolio), and a Regina George for good measure—and this is where it’s going to hit home for its target audience.

Star-CrossedAt first glance, Star-Crossed comes off as a weepy teen romance cribbed straight from the Cliff’s Notes of Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet grafted onto a forgotten draft of Roswell. But as the pilot makes clear, that’s just the skeleton onto which they’re hanging a greater story of disenfranchisement and oppression. Yes, the love story between Roman and Emery is the focal point, but the show is just as interested in why they can’t be together as why they want to be. Neither side is set up as “good” or “evil.” Both have their fiery radicals who would rather keep the species segregated and their determined peacemakers willing to accept assimilation, as well the more thoughtful moderates unsure of what side of the line they stand and unwilling to be forced to choose.

If it applies itself, Star-Crossed could eventually become a pretty good show. There are some intriguing elements flickering through the pilot—Why did the Atrians pick Earth? What does Probably Evil Woman want? Other than the transparent cell phones and stupid looking backpacks, what other new technologies does the future hold? Do the Atrians actually live in shipping containers, and why are they so obsessed with fairy lights? How many episodes until someone says the modern equivalent of “My only love sprung from my only hate!” Will someone ever give Aimee Teegarden acting lessons?—and I look forward to having them touched on in greater detail in further episodes. Yes, I am serious about wanting to watch more of this show, and no, I won’t be watching ironically.

The CW is in the midst of creative resurgence. Shows like Arrow and Supernatural skew adult, while The Vampire Diaries and Reign welcome the younger set. The Tomorrow People, the other new SF show to premiere on The CW in the 2013-2014 season, has settled into a nice middle ground that keeps both teens and the 18-49 demo. Star-Crossed is at a decision point in terms of what kind of show it wants to be, one they probably won’t fully untangle until season 2 (if it makes it that far). Hopefully it will choose The Tomorrow People’s route over Reign’s. If they can sort out some of the wrinkles with the oppressor/repressed concept and beef up the theme of disenfranchisement while not losing the romance, they’ll have a really solid show on their hands.

Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

Eric Saveau
1. Eric Saveau
Alex, have you been watching Helix on the SyFy Channel? It's a show with much to recommend it; a slow-burn sci-fi conspiracy thriller that mostly uses scientific terminology correctly and is weaving a bunch of plot threads and mystery details together toward an ending that promises to answer most, if not all, questions - and so far the odds of it sticking the landing look good.
Alex Brown
2. AlexBrown
@Eric Saveau: No, haven't watched it. Other than BSG, SyFy shows never seem to quite do it for me. It was a slog getting through just the first half of the first seasons of Eureka and Warehouse 13, and I eventually dropped both. Maybe I'll give Helix a go, though...
Eric Saveau
3. teel77
Helix is tonally much different than W13 or Eureka. Those are kind of light and fluffy sci-fi wheras Helix has much more of a horror bent.
Eric Saveau
4. Eric Saveau
Helix is a unique beast. Like teel77 said, it has a bit of a horror bent, but I should add that the horror is that of being ill-equipped to handle a dangerous outbreak whose nature is largely unknown. The protagonists are working hard to fix that problem, racing to acquire and understand as much knowledge as possible, even while sometimes running or fighting for their lives. The atmosphere is often skin-crawlingly spooky, largely due to the sense of isolation of being aware of how much remains unknown, but through it all the scientists act like scientists. They keep working the problem. And I fucking love that.

Honestly, if you wanted to sum it up in a nutshell - it's the anti-Prometheus. Or at least that's what it's striving to be, and so far succeeding.
Eric Saveau
5. SarahL9
This show looks interesting but needs some improvement before I really like it. Until you mentioned it in the article I had no idea this was set in New Orleans.
Also the just outright hatred of the Atrians, I just don't believe it. These aliens look essentially just like humans and are refugees and we decide to shoot first and put them in internment camps?
I don't know if I don't believe that reaction or I just don't want to believe it but unless something comes out that makes it more believeable for me I don't know how long I'll keep watching this show.
Alex Brown
6. AlexBrown
@SarahL9: The show's set in Baton Rouge, not New Orleans. But your point about not having any idea of its location still stands. There is nothing particularly Baton Rouge-y about it, or anything that even vaguely hints at Louisiana.

Speaking as a female PoC, I can easily belive the hatred. The things I've been called just for happening to exist in the vicinity of someone who didn't approve of my existence...sheesh. If anything, the reactions were tame compared to reality. Google "Little Rock Nine." Then Google "desegregation in the south." Then Google "Japanese internment camps." These are the themes Star-Crossed is toying with, and that light touch is why it comes off to me (and to many other critics) as appropriation rather than homage.

On a more general note, if a massive spaceship crash landed in the middle of any country, I don't doubt that the first reaction would be to shoot first and ask questions later. Particularly in America. Nativism and isolationism are part of our national identiy, has been since the first people landed here in the 17th century. Aliens also rock the foundation of most religions, since they don't tend to take intelligent extraterrestrial life into account. So not only is our national security being breached in a way we're completely unprepared for, but so is our entire way of conceiving of the universe and our role in it. But you do bring up a good point - and one I hope the show will soon address - as to why they look so similar to us. I suspect it will probably become a major plot point down the line.
Eric Saveau
7. Leslie Carloss
Yes, New Orleans is very cool with a lot of great history, culture, and food, but have you been to Baton Rouge?! It's got a lot of great history, culture, and food too and several feature films have been filmed there in the last few years. Lafayette is also a great city. As a born and bred Cajun living south of Lafayette I was offended by your negative Baton Rouge comment. I do plan on watching Star-Crossed. I haven't seen the pilot yet (it's in my playlist).

I love Helix!!!

It's my new favorite show!! I eagerly anticipate it every week!
Eric Saveau
8. kingofthe7seas
Why has no one said that this show also has roots in Alien Natioin, a much older and better show than this. I didlike the Romeo And Juliet comparison. That makes this show a part of CW'S mashup of Sci-Fi, and horror and teen romance.

Alex Brown
9. AlexBrown
@Leslie Carloss: Sorry for the offense! I think of Baton Rouge as a lot like Sacramento (the capitol of my homestate of California). Sacramento is a fine city, full of rich history and beautiful buildings. Hundreds of thousands of people apparently love living there. But when compared to other CA cities like LA or SF, there isn't enough money in the world to make me want to live in Sacramento. But since I haven't been to Baton Rouge (and likely never will), my perspective is just that - subjective.

@kingofthe7seas: Given that Star-Crossed is a show about teen romance on The CW, I think the likelihood of it drawing any direct inspiration from a 1 season show from 1989 about a cop and an alien who fight crime in Los Angeles is remote. But yes, they do share some similarities.
Pirmin Schanne
10. Torvald_Nom
Re Helix: I've found that it very much depends on what you were expecting - if you were looking for some enclosed-environment horror a la The Thing, it works fine; but if you were expecting some well-founded serious contagion-management story-telling a la ReGenesis it makes you cringe extremely fast.
Eric Saveau
11. Eric Saveau
@Torvald Nom, I don't think either comparison really applies. The contagion management is only one aspect of what's going on and is really primarily a hook for other mysteries. There are a lot of layers to this show and what it's doing, a lot of plot threads that are bobbing and weaving and hinting at how they will converge. The real trick, of course, if it resolves satisfyingly. No guarantees, but it's gving me reason to hope so far.
Pirmin Schanne
12. Torvald_Nom
@Eric Saveau: I'm glad it's working for you - for me, it turned into a Prometheus scenario pretty fast (if you're familiar with Peter Watts' critique of that film), and I really prefer some more science in my sci-fi (and some more sensible security personal in my horror flicks - not incompetent nutjobs). It's just too much for my suspension of disbelief.

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