by BREANA BACON
Well, ladies and gents, I have returned and I have found what I believe will be one of the best series on television this year.
Empire, created by Lee Daniels, director of the powerful film The Butler, made its debut on FOX tonight . The show features two Oscar-nominated actors, Maryland-native Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard. Coincidentally (or not), the pair were also the stars of the 2005 Indie/hip hop film Hustle & Flow. When I first watched the trailer for the first time around Christmas, I started calling the show ‘Hustle & Flow Part II’ and after watching the pilot episode, I stand by that.
As the show opened and Lucious Lyon, played by Howard, began with a monologue about selling drugs at the age of nine on the streets of Philadelphia, and the familiar line of how “music saved my life,” I couldn’t help but reminisce about DJay selling mixtapes out the trunk of his car at the bar. But anywho.
First, my synopsis of the characters, starting with the three Lyon boys. Andre, the oldest and most business minded of Lucious’ boys, played by Selma‘s Trai Byers, was shady to me from the moment he stepped on screen. It’s clear that he can’t stand either one of his brothers and will do whatever it takes to keep them from running Empire Records. It doesn’t help that he has his “brilliant,” manipulative snow bunny at his side to pit his brothers against each other. But that’s another topic for another post. No shade, but shade. Moving on.
The middle of the Lyon trio is Jamal, played by Jussie Smollett, who you may have recognized from the 90s film, The Mighty Ducks. Smollett has acting in his genes, being the older brother of Jurnee Smollett, who took showbiz by storm in Eve’s Bayou and later stealing the show alongside Denzel Washington in The Great Debaters. The male Smollett’s character is the most talented of the Lyon gang, but still struggles for his father’s acceptance of his sexuality. It is clear that his son’s homosexuality has been a longstanding issue for Lucious after an absolutely gut-wrenching scene where he puts Jamal in a trash can after the boy interrupts a gathering, walking into the room in his mother’s heels. As with all of my favorite shows, I live tweet and went absolutely bizerk after watching this. Let my husband ever do that to my child….Jesus, keep me near the cross. Moving on.
The baby of the family is spoiled, distracted Hakeem Lyon (Bryshere Gray) who is talented but too caught up in the lavish lifestyle of a rapper to take it as seriously as his father would like.
While the boys are the veins connected to the brain of the show, their mother Cookie, played by the fabulously outspoken Taraji P. Henson, is the heart of Empire. Cookie is released from a 17-year stay in prison after taking the fall for Lucious for a drug deal gone bad. She finds that the business she sacrificed her freedom has blown up and naturally, Cookie wants her piece of the pie.
The show draws similarities to Starz’s series Power, which caught the attention of the show’s producer, rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. The rapper criticized the new show on Instagram, claiming it to be a “copy” of the marketing style of his series.
Of course, my girl Taraji was strategic and simple, but nonetheless strong with her clap back, tweeting a day before Empire aired that she “pays attention to $ (dollars), NOT cents!” The original queen of shade has spoken. In light of the feud, Taraji more than delivered in her role as the ‘mama don’t play,’ determined Cookie Lyon. Let’s not forget, she beat her son with a broom, y’all. A BROOM. It doesn’t get any more “black mama” than that.
The verdict on Lucious Lyon is still out for me. I lost respect for him when he humiliated Jamal, and even more when he killed his longtime friend Bunkie in cold blood, BUT with that said, I know where his intentions are rooted and I know that business is business. Especially when you work from the literal bottom and claw your way to the top. He’s starting to look as shady as Eli Pope, but we’ll see what happens next week.
There was just enough ratchetness in the show to keep it relevant and just enough drama to keep me interested. There were a lot of story lines, but they all seemed to connect at a common point. This King Lear-style series seems to be headed in all the right directions but may have been just a tad bit much for viewers in the first episode.
Although there seem to be mixed feelings about the show, I am officially hooked and hanging on for next week’s episode. Everyone in the show just wants what’s “theirs.” Shoot, I want what’s mine too. See y’all next Wednesday.