Hip-hop artist and CEO of Empire Entertainment, Lucious Lyon, has always ruled unchallenged, but a medical diagnosis predicts he will be incapacitated in three years, which prompts the sharks to circle. Without further damaging his family, he must decide which of his three sons will take over. His favorite, young Hakeem, is a gifted musician but values fame over hard work. Middle son, Jamal, is talented and shy but gay -- embarrassing to Lyon. The oldest, Andre, is business-minded but lacks charisma. The reappearance of Cookie, his ex-wife, complicates things; she says he owes her for taking the fall for the drug-running that financed his early career.
Program creators: Danny Strong, Lee Daniels
Part of my Dish package includes Prime Time recording (the DVR automatically records all prime time network shows). So I tend to sample new shows more than if I had to set the timer myself. Yup, I’m lazy. Any-hooo
Empire isn’t anything I would have tried on my own but it was there on my DVR and I had heard that it broke ratings records and was amazing so I gave it a shot.
I laughed almost through the entire first episode and was going to quit but it rolled right into episode number two so I stuck around. I giggled less and was intrigued enough to keep going. By episode three I was hooked.
The first episode is SO over the top with cheesy dialogue and an especially hammy performance given by Terrance Howard, playing Lucious Lyon, family patriarch and Empire CEO. Because it takes place within the rap industry, the show broke into frequent music performances (by the Empire talent) that was especially jarring.
Within three episodes, the show has already tackled: the cutthroat music industry, ALS, mental illness, homosexuality, class differences, affairs, murder, cover ups – you name it. It not only jumps the shark – it beats the shark into submission. This show is Dynasty, Falcon Crest, Dallas x’s 100 on the soap opera scale.
But then there’s Cookie, Lucious’s ex wife and mother to his three sons, played by Taraji P. Henson. She’s an absolute force to be reckoned with every time she’s on screen. Once she appears, you cannot look away. And she’s probably the most outlandish – over the top – character on the show yet she grounds the whole thing with her layered performance, turning Empire from a cheesetastic soap opera to a gripping family drama that is so daring and revolutionary with everything from casting to plotlines that you can’t stop watching.
This show is groundbreaking, shattering stereotypes and pushing boundaries in ways that no premium cable show, with way more leeway, ever does.
Now that the initial story introduction is over, the show is calming down a bit and developing all of those truth bombs they laid out during the first few episodes. The acting and chemistry of the cast is getting better, the dialogue is sharp, the peek inside the music industry fascinating, rather than annoying and jarring. Howard is now giving a more nuanced and powerful performance as he battles his ALS and struggles to stay in control of the future of Empire Records.
I don’t normally like soap opera style shows for long because I get bored with all the lying, cheating etc. but like I said Empire has already thrown all that out there – balls to the wall – so as long as they keep countering it with more subtle nod at the complexities of family – I’m in.
And…Empire is just plain old FUN.