How do you make the soapiest play of all time prime for a summer guilty pleasure watch? You let Shondaland take it over.
Still Star-Crossed is the latest offering from the production company that created Grey's Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. It tackles the aftermath of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet with more backstabbing, forbidden romance and power feuds between the two most powerful families in Verona.
The new ABC series keeps the setting, the time period and the characters of Shakespeare's most famous play, but it also makes some serious changes to the Bard's work of art to create an even more dramatic story of the aftermath of Romeo and Juliet's suicides. Yes, only Shonda Rhimes could think Romeo & Juliet needs more drama.
While Still Star-Crossed could be just the thing this summer to tide you over until Scandal's final season, there are a few key things we think old Billy Shakes would pick a bone with in this sequel. Dust off your freshman year English copy of this lovers' tale and let's dig in to Shakespeare's (most likely) gripes.
1. Juliet's death
In the OG version of this story, Juliet (Clare Rugaard) wakes up from her fake slumber to realize Romeo (Lucien Laviscount) missed the memo that she's not really dead and poisoned himself. She stabs herself with his dagger out of grief and that is how they are discovered. Still Star-Crossed mostly sticks to that game plan, except Juliet just drinks the rest of Romeo's poison instead of stabbing herself. It's not a huge shift, but it actually makes things less dramatic. The show airs at 10 p.m. so we know they could show the more accurate, violent version. We all know Scandal has done much worse.
2. Rosaline is a Capulet
The new series focuses primarily on Rosaline (Lashana Lynch), who in Shakespeare's version was the unrequited object of Romeo's affections before he ever laid eyes on Juliet. That means she had to be aligned with the Montagues or else the story would have been called Romeo & Rosaline. Shondaland not only switched Rosaline's family allegiance, but made her an adopted servant of Lord (Anthony Head) and Lady Capulet (Zuleikha Robinson) — so she filled the role of Juliet's nurse. She went from being a maiden of high society and the first love of Romeo (though she wasn't into it) to being Juliet's servant. Talk about a creative demotion.
In this version, Rosaline allegedly wants to be a nun, but she's got a lot of repressed feelings for Prince Escalus (Sterling Sulieman). And at the end of the first episode, she is the Capulets' choice to marry Benvolio Montague (Wade Briggs) in hopes of uniting the families and having one powerhouse union to control Verona. Since Rosaline was aligned with the Montagues in Shakespeare's version, her marrying Benvolio wouldn't have been scandalous or even unexpected — now it's the crux of Still Star-Crossed's entire plot.
3. Prince Escalus is in love
In the Shakespeare version, no one cares about the prince's love life because he's in charge of keeping law and order. In Still Star-Crossed, the original prince dies in the first episode, leaving his son Escalus and his ambitious daughter Isabella (Medalion Rahimi) in charge of keeping the Capulets and Montagues at peace. Escalus is clearly going to have some trouble with that given his harboring feelings for Rosaline. You better believe that Isabella will be using that to her advantage to really be the one with power. A woman running Verona from behind the scenes? Shakespeare would faint in his fancy collar.
4. Benvolio is the Montague black sheep
In the play, it's actually Romeo that fails to meet his father's lofty expectations. He spends too much time with his head in the clouds and fantasizing about ladies. It's Benvolio that Lord Montague (Grant Bowler) sends to bring Romeo back to earth.
On planet Still Star-Crossed, Benvolio is the constant disappointment in the Montague chain of command. He's a party boy who also loves his maidens and can't seem to make himself into the man a wealthy catch would want. Once Romeo kills himself, Benvolio becomes the main heir to the Montague fortune and now he'll have to prove he's worth the trouble. Again, in Shakespeare's version he already was worth it.
5. The plot to unite the families
The entire reason that Romeo and Juliet eloped was because their families hated each other too much for them to ever have a chance at living happily together. It's the cause of the entire play's drama. Shakespeare doesn't tell us what happens after the teenagers kill themselves except that the two families are devastated they've lost their heirs. In Still Star-Crossed, the families deal with their grief by deciding that Romeo and Juliet had the right idea and they should create a union between the Capulets and Montagues. Um, if it was that easy to agree on, maybe Romeo and Juliet didn't have to die?
6. Paris lives!
To be fair, Still Star-Crossed isn't the first version of Romeo & Juliet to play with this. Baz Luhrmann completely ignored that Paris was even present at Juliet's deathbed. Still Star-Crossed's Paris (Torrance Coombs) is there and gets stabbed by Romeo (as the original play depicts), but he doesn't die next to the forbidden lovers. Instead, he's saved by Lady Capulet and is being nursed back to health by her and Rosaline's sister Livia (Ebonee Noel). We are betting $10 right now there is some secret sexy stuff going on between Paris and Lady Capulet that will be revealed in Episode 2.
Of course, this is not to say that Shakespeare had it all figured out either. He probably also would have had an issue with actual women playing the female parts. Though it will take some serious adjusting to get used to seeing Rosaline as a Capulet, it is interesting to see the former poster-girl for "The Friend Zone" getting an active voice and a chance to tell her side of the story — even if it wouldn't be Shakespeare's version.
That is to say, even if Shakespeare would have some serious issues with Still Star-Crossed's reimagining, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy it.
The drama of Romeo and Juliet continues with Still Star-Crossed, Mondays at 10/9c on ABC.