On the surface, The CW’s new drama Star-Crossed doesn’t stray too far from the usual programs the network puts out. The basic formula for most CW shows is as simple as teen drama + science fiction elements, and it often works. The CW has been home to shows about teen vampires (The Vampire Diaries), teen witches (The Secret Circle), teens with superpowers (The Tomorrow People), and spin-offs of teen vampires (The Originals). Teen aliens is such a logical progression that it’s odd it took this long for Star-Crossed to happen.
The other big selling point (as if the network needed a bigger selling point than teen aliens) is that it is essentially an extraterrestrial retelling of Romeo and Juliet. The titular star-crossed lovers are human Emery (Aimee Teegarden), finally returning to school after spending years in the hospital for some immune deficiency (which almost definitely has something to do with the aliens, right?), and alien Roman (Matt Lanter, at the youthful age of 30), one of the seven teens from the Atrian alien race chosen to partake in an integration experiment by attending the “normal” high school outside of their sector.
Emery and Roman’s story actually begins much earlier, when the aliens first land in 2014 and are mistaken for hostile invaders. Roman hides in Emery’s shed until the government shoots — and apparently murders — child-Roman with a laser gun, right in front of the traumatized heroine. Ten years later, it turns out that he hasn’t died but has been living in the sector with the rest of the Atrian race. He also hasn’t forgotten Emery because they formed a strong love connection over a bowl of cold spaghetti (OK, so it isn’t the best written show in the world). They are in love from the moment they see each other, but her human friends aren’t going to accept any relationship the two may begin — and neither are his alien ones.
Fortunately, Star-Crossed aims higher than just an alien/human love story and wants to be more of an allegory — think: the teen drama version of District 9 — and it quickly becomes obvious that creator Meredith Averill wants to tackle some bigger issues, such as immigration and racism, filtered through a decidedly lighter (and more accessible) lens. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work as well as it should in the pilot episode.
There is a definite lack of subtlety happening: the Atrians are confined to a sector heavily guarded by the government, they are derogatorily called “tatties” (this “slur” is because of the tattoos they all have on their faces, as if tattoos are still some strange, rebellious thing), and there are protestors outside the school when they arrive (the signs read “Go Back To Your Sector!” and “Keep Our Schools Human!”). Later, the Atrian 7 refuse to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and are harassed by their human classmates. It gets a little muddy and uncomfortable at times; sometimes it’s too on-the-nose, sometimes it’s as if the show doesn’t know if it necessarily wants to commit to such heavy material.
That’s why an alien Romeo and Juliet story, no matter how ridiculous that phrase is, is actually important to the show. If Star-Crossed ever feels too bogged down in political and social commentary, it can always switch focus to Emery and Roman tentatively holding hands in the woods. When that gets too sappy, it can focus on the raging war between humans and aliens and the teenagers who get stuck in the middle. Based on the pilot, Star-Crossed has a long way to go, but it’s already trying to be smarter than the usual CW program, and I’m willing to stick with it for a while.