Empire Season 1 (2015)
TV14 / Fox
Drama / Music
Starring: Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Jussie Smollett
Creators: Lee Daniels, Danny Strong
When I sat down and watched the first episode of Empire I had no clue where it was going to end up. It could have been a surprise hit, or a complete failure; I was not sure. It had a unique spin on the family drama sphere of television, one that chronicled the life of a family in the hip-hop music business. If only I knew the raging wildfire that the show ended up turning into as succeeding weeks went on.
The show, which gives us a glimpse of the glamorous lifestyle of the Lyons family, proved to get bigger and bigger every single week. Every week, they would release the numbers and they just seemed unrealistic. How could a show do this good? How could a show continue to receive more viewers every week, without going down in ratings? The pilot was watched by around 9.8 million viewers and the finale clocked in at about 16.7 million viewers, without ever taking any dips or stumbles. The show, on its quick rise to the top, ended up crushing records, including the record for highest rated season finale by a first year show, which was previously held by the Grey’s Anatomy for its first season in 2005. The show now stands as TV’s highest rated and most popular show out there, and it’s only just begun for the crew at Empire Records.
Lucious Lyons (Terrence Howard), the owner of Empire Records, is the star of the show. We find out in the first episode that he is diagnosed with the chronic illness that is ALS. The one thing we learn throughout the show is that Lucious is not a man to go down without swinging. He’s a fighter. He wants to take his record company public, but in order to do that, he needs to find someone to take the throne. His three sons, Andre (Trai Byers), Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray), and Jamal (Jussie Smollett), have to pretty much earn their dad’s trust and respect in order to get a piece of his empire.
We also have the character of Cookie, played by Taraji P. Henderson. If you have not watched the show, but manage to stay up to date with pop culture discussion, you have probably already heard of Cookie’s character. With hash tags like #ShitCookieSays, it is easy to see why Cookie was one of my favorite characters from the series. She is the ex-husband of Lucious who was put into jail because of her and Lucious’s past in the hood. She was sentenced to seventeen years in jail, all while Lucious built up his Empire, calling it his own. We see in the show however, that this is not so much the case, and that Cookie has had a big part in the label’s success. When she gains freedom from the precinct in the first episode, it is immediately care that she is not going to let Lucious have all the fun with Empire’s success. She wants a part of it too.
The show contains all sorts of themes, including greed, power, and the flashy lifestyle that comes with the hip-hop industry. It is these kinds of things that separate the show from other family dramas. It made the show much more interesting to watch. There were numerous points throughout the season where everybody seems to have their own motives in mind when carrying out their actions. This leads to lots of juicy conflict and literal hair-pulling drama, especially in the last couple of episodes. Cookie and Anika Calhoun (Grace Gealey), Lucious’ head of A&R, have a tense relationship and this relationship often provided us some of the best moments from the show.
There are two things that probably contribute to the massive success behind the show, and that is the show’s edgy plotlines, as well as the rich music. The show, on top of the concepts that I mentioned before, travels to some areas where most shows would never think to go. Lucious Lyon demonstrates his homophobic nature whenever his son Jamal comes out. We also see his disdain for white women with Andre’s relationship with his wife Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday). These two plotlines come up frequently throughout the first season and they painted Lucious Lyon in a pretty negative light. I applaud the show for hitting these types of themes though, because the show had a lot to say about them. I think it handled them well. It is these kinds of themes that permeate the hip-hop industry, which is why it would make sense to tackle them in a show like Empire. As Lucious says, “hip-hop is controversy.”
Rapper and producer Timbaland was the guy behind Empire’s amazing soundtrack, which includes genres like hip-hop, rap, r&b, and gospel. If you are making a show about music, you have to make sure that you get the music nailed down right, and Empire gave us a formidable soundtrack, knocking it out of the park. Hakeem, an up-and-coming rapper, and Jamal, the passionate r&b singer, provided some great musical hits, as well as some of the supporting cast. The show even featured some cameo performances from the likes of Jennifer Hudson (who actually played the role of Andre’s musical therapist), Estelle, Mary J. Blige, Snoop Dogg, Rita Ora, Juicy J, as well as others. The music was so good, that there is talks about producing a concert series featuring the show’s hit music.
As the show went on, the plot twists and deep intertwined drama started to get more and more intense. The last four episodes where edge-of-your-seat enthralling and rattling television. The one gripe I started to have was that some of these riveting twists and turns seemed a little cheap. I don’t want to spoil anything, but things start to suddenly look up for Lucious by the second to last episode, completely out of the blue. They used a convenient plot device to make the show more interesting for its second season. This might be hard to argue with, but I wish they could have handled it with a more realistic solution. There were a ton of other cheap and convenient plot twists that served the purpose of moving things along towards what looks to be an intense season two.
I started to get the sense that Empire realized how big it was getting. The first couple of episodes were interesting and entertaining, but as the ratings started to skyrocket towards the sky, so did the show’s vision and scope. You could almost see the show evolving before your eyes as it drove towards the fantastic finale. It was a show that gripped me from the get-go, and it kept me wrangled towards the very end. As the final credits started to role after its thirteenth and final episode of the season, I just felt myself hungry for more. Season two cannot come sooner enough. Empire is one of the few shows that can be considered “must watch TV.” If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend catching up on the first season, because I can only feel that the show is going to get bigger as season two takes the stage this fall, or next spring…but hopefully next fall.
The finale pretty much presented us with the main skeleton behind season two. When Lucious, after realizing he does not have ALS anymore, gives the throne to Jamal, Andre and Hakeem are not too pleased. They want to do what is considered a “hostile takeover.” They join forced with Cookie and Anika to basically bring down Jamal and Lucious’ empire.
In the final couple of scenes, we see that Lucious’ dark past catches up to him when justice is finally done. He is arrested for his murder of their cousin Bunkie and is sent to jail during his tribute concert. This is bad news for Empire, the newly public company. This only means that season two is going to be a story of revenge for Lucious. He is going to use these recent forthcomings as fuel for his comeback. Season two is going to be one hell of a season if the series’ creators can play the right cards.