These are just a few questions you should consider before watching “Star,” which premieres Wednesday on Fox. (Subsequent episodes will air weekly beginning Jan. 4.) The show follows three young women trying to break into the music scene. Star (Jude Demorest) has spent most of her life in foster care after her mother died of a drug overdose. She has been recording tracks with Alexandra (Ryan Destiny), an aspiring singer she met on Instagram and who (unbeknown to Star) is the daughter of a wealthy rock musician (Kravitz) with little interest in her music. Star tracks down her 16-year-old sister, Simone (Brittany O’Grady), who she has not seen in five years, to round out their girl group.
Two scrappy orphans and a poor little rich girl destined for fame isn’t the most original premise. But Daniels, who co-created the series with Tom Donaghy, has a list of proven hits. In addition to his work on “Empire,” he directed “The Butler” and “Precious,” earning an Oscar nomination for the latter. If you’re familiar with Daniels’s work, you know to expect a certain level of camp, and there’s an overabundance here. If campiness were the only issue, “Star” could still pass muster as awesomely bad TV. (“Empire” often veers into that category.) Unfortunately, “Star” suffers from stilted dialogue and a narrative so sloppy it overshadows the show’s more redeeming qualities. Not even Golden Globe winner Queen Latifah can save this mess.
Within the first 15 minutes of the pilot, Star leaves her Pittsburgh foster home and persuades a social worker to process her out of the system even though she’s not quite 18. Her file includes her sister Simone’s Harrisburg, Pa., address and letters from their godmother Carlotta (Queen Latifah), who lives in Atlanta. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I’ll just say that Star and Simone’s reconnection unfolds in an unsettling — and unrealistic — way. The sisters procure a car and head to New York, where they pick up Alexandra before heading south to Atlanta in search of Carlotta and a manager to help them book gigs.
Carlotta, who once had a girl group of her own with Star and Simone’s mother, has found religion — she’s singing in church when they find her — and runs a beauty salon out of her home. She agrees to let the girls stay there if they help out around the shop. Star’s search for a manager takes her to a seedy strip club, where she meets Jahil (Bratt), a broke, washed-up record producer with a cocaine habit — and, conveniently, a history with Star’s mother and Carlotta. Star gives Jahil a lap dance, which transitions into the show’s first official music montage. (I won’t give away Gibson’s and Campbell’s roles, but both show up in Atlanta.)
Demorest, who was discovered in a nationwide search for the show’s trio, has a commanding on-screen presence. She is also racially ambiguous and blond for her role as Star. Presumably, this ambiguity is why the show constantly feels it has to remind us (through catty beauty shop zingers and other dialogue) that Star is white. Simone, who has a different father, is half black (like O’Grady.) “Star” makes a tepid attempt to confront race and privilege in how the sisters are perceived and treated. Carlotta’s neighbor Derek (Quincy Brown), hastily introduced as a love interest for Alexandra, references the ongoing tension between police officers and communities of color, but it’s similarly contrived and seems to come out of nowhere.
If the show offers any meaningful social commentary, it’s through Carlotta’s transgender daughter Cotton (Amiyah Scott), who struggles to get her mother to accept her transition. Scott, who was briefly featured on “Real Housewives of Atlanta,” is transgender, which is refreshing because many transgender women portrayed on TV and in film are still played by straight men.
Overall, though, “Star” clumsily transitions between very serious issues and the trio’s attempts to get famous, which include the underage Star making sexual advances to grown men who welcome her misguided attention. Simone’s backstory is particularly heartbreaking and she relies on pot, alcohol and other substances to cope with her pain. One implausible scene finds her belting out a song in church before overdosing on the handful of pills she popped before leaving Carlotta’s house. She ends up in the hospital on a psychiatric hold and confides some of her past trauma to Carlotta. But there is also music to be made. Star brings Jahil and Alexandra to the hospital so the trio can record a demo — in a shower stall, no less.
“My friends say that I’m crazy, ’cause I give you my love,” a previously bedridden Simone sings at full blast. A surreal montage begins with the trio strutting through the ward in teal, thigh-high boots and hospital gowns as other psychiatric patients dance around them. The scene is woefully problematic as it seems to turn mental illness into a joke, though I’ll admit they sound great.
This is in the third episode, which also features a human trafficking subplot, a menacing figure from Simone’s past and a cameo from Big Boi of Outkast fame. One of the rapper’s lines perfectly sums up how I feel three hours in: “Yo, you know what? Too much drama. I’m out!”
“Star” (one hour) premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Fox. The second episode, which marks the official series premiere, airs on Jan. 4.