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'Star' is Off To a Foggy Start
December 14, 2016  | By David Hinckley

The first episode of Star, Fox’s much-anticipated new show about a hot female singing trio, contains enough down-and-dirty drama to fill the life stories of a dozen girl groups.

For better or worse, it also offers enough soap that anyone so inclined could also shower several times during the course of the show.

Star comes from Tom Donaghy and Lee Daniels, who created Fox’s chart-busting Empire. It’s hardly incidental that Star debuts Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET, in the Empire slot, after the mid-season finale of Empire.

Like Empire, Star is set in the world of black music, which these days crosses over into “mainstream” music.

Star also follows Empire’s lead by featuring new contemporary music as part of the storyline. That concept used to be ratings death on prime-time television, but Glee, Empire and Nashville have shown that if the music feels legitimate, or at least fun, it can work.

The music here forms an enriching backdrop for characters who roam the sobering and often troubling underside of the music biz.

Star (Jude Demorest, left), Simone (Brittany O’Grady) and Alex (Ryan Destiny) are the centerpieces, three girls who form a hip-hop/R&B group and are determined to make it to the top.  

While that’s a familiar dream, it comes here with a particularly jagged backstory.

Star and Simone are sisters whose drug-addicted single mother died years earlier.

Star and Simone were sent to separate foster homes, where Star bounced around and Simone was sexually abused.

As our story opens, Star finally finds Simone and takes action to neutralize the sexual abuse. They bolt, together at last.

Meanwhile, Star has made an online connection with Alex, the rich daughter of a successful musician. Alex, a songwriter as well as a performer, she feels like her father is too busy selling out to give her any encouragement.

So she bolts, too, joining up with Star and Simone in Atlanta in hopes their performing skills will enable them to showcase Alex’s songs.

Okay, a little over the top at this point, maybe. Wait. It gets better.

Because they need a place to stay in Atlanta, Star tracks down Carlotta (Queen Latifah), an old friend of her mother’s.

Carlotta runs a beauty salon and wants to save souls. She’s also a surrogate mother to Star and Simone, so she lets them all crash at her place to pursue a dream Carlotta deeply distrusts.

That pursuit takes them to a strip club, where they’re told they might find a manager. They talk their way in, onto the stage in fact, and they meet Jahil Rivera (Benjamin Bratt), whose own career has cooled and who now sees these women as the way to heat it back up.

It also turns out that back in the day, Jahil managed another female group, which included Star’s and Simone’s late mother and Carlotta.

Carlotta does not seem to have entirely positive memories of the experience, so she’s not enamored of the idea Jahil would now be managing this new group.

If it all sounds pretty dense, that’s because it is. Empire is dense, too, but it has always left some breathing room, partly through the smart use of the music.

Star doesn’t have that rhythm down quite yet, which may be partly because the pilot needed to cram in a lot of information and introduce a lot of characters.

Daniels’s ability to come up with melodramatic plotlines isn’t in doubt, so Star is certain to have plenty of fireworks and tension.

It just needs to put them into a coherent story that we want to follow.

No one ever said that getting to the top in show biz would be easy.

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