IN FAIR VERONA
ABC bolsters the ranks with ShondaLand’s first costume drama
ShondaLand takes us back to fair Verona with “Still StarCrossed,” a sequel to William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” premiering Monday.
ShondaLand is going in a different direction this summer. The production company founded by screenwriter/producer Shonda Rhimes has made a comfortable home for itself in ABC’s Thursday night prime-time block, with such hit drama series as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder.”
In a departure from the contemporary, workplace-based shows we usually get from Rhimes, the latest offering from ShondaLand is a period piece — and you can look for it Monday nights instead of in the usual TGIT block. “Still Star-Crossed” takes us back to fair Verona in a series that serves as a sequel to William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” It’s based on the novel of the same name by Melinda Taub and makes its long-awaited debut Monday, May 29, on ABC and CTV.
As just about anyone who made it through high school English knows, “Romeo and Juliet” is one of Shakespeare’s best-known tragedies and ends with the deaths of the play’s two titular lovers. The final scene of the play leads us to believe that the feuding Montague and Capulet families are reconciled by their children’s deaths, but as we see in “Still StarCrossed,” things in Verona are still more than a little rocky.
The series follows characters we were made familiar with, to varying degrees, in “Romeo and Juliet.” British actress Lashana Lynch (“Fast Girls,” 2011) stars as Rosaline Capulet, Juliet’s cousin. In the series, she’s taken in by her aunt and uncle (Juliet’s still-grieving parents) following the deaths of her parents, and is forced to work as a servant.
In Shakespeare’s play, Rosaline is a minor character, but an important one. Her role is a non-speaking one (and in most productions, she’s never even seen), but those familiar with the play will remember that she’s the object of Romeo’s affections in Act I, Scene I, before he sets his eyes on her cousin, Juliet — though Rosaline “hath forsworn to love,” a.k.a. the feeling isn’t mutual. It’s because of Rosaline that he sneaks into the Capulet party, and thus meets Juliet. You know the rest of the story.
Starring opposite Lynch is Wade Briggs (“Please Like Me”) as Benvolio Montague, Romeo’s cousin, who tries to keep the two families from ripping each other to pieces for much of the play. In “Still Star-Crossed,” his desire for peace doesn’t extend to his own marriage prospects; he’s ordered to marry Rosaline, who has no say in the matter, and neither of them is thrilled with the arrangement. Prince Escalus (Sterling Sulieman, “In Time,” 2011), however, is convinced that the match will bring peace to Verona at long last, and is heedless of the fact that Benvolio is firmly against mixing Montague and Capulet blood, and Rosaline despises her betrothed.
For fans of Rhimes’ shows, the debut of “Still Star-Crossed” has been long awaited. The announcement first came well over a year ago, in January 2016, that ABC had ordered the pilot for the 2016-17 season. The plan was to give it a mid-season premiere, but the scope of the production (which is filmed in Europe), and Rhimes’ packed schedule, simply didn’t allow for it.
This isn’t your average ShondaLand production, filmed on a Los Angeles soundstage, after all. Showrunners wanted to give it the time and attention that a well-orchestrated costume drama demands.
“It has taken us a little longer than we thought it would’ve taken us,” ABC entertainment president Channing Dungey told Deadline at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. “It has all the great hallmarks of a ShondaLand project, but it also is very epic in terms of scope and scale, and we did not want to rush it into a place where we felt like it wasn’t ready.”
Period dramas have always been a draw, but the genre is having a moment right now in particular. The dearly departed “Downton Abbey” was a megahit for PBS, and Netflix’s “The Crown” has been raking in the accolades. There’s “Victoria,” “Poldark,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Poirot” — the list goes on and on, and the popularity of the format shows no sign of waning. It’s no great surprise that Rhimes would want a piece of that pie.
Wade Briggs, Lashana Lynch and Sterling Sulieman star in “Still Star-Crossed”
Lashana Lynch in a scene from “Still Star-Crossed”