First Impressions


Aired on: FOX

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            I've been seeing promos for FOX's dramatic new television series for weeks, but wasn't quite sure if I really wanted to watch it.  Sure, two of the main characters in the series are played by incredible actors and there was some great music being played in the promos, but was Empire really worth my while.  A sneak peek behind the scenes made me decide to check the show out when it premiered on January 7, 2014 at 9pm EST.

Empire stars Terrence Howard as Lucious Lyon, a man who seemingly has it all.  Beginning his life as a drug dealer with incredible musical talent, Lucious turned his life around, eventually becoming the CEO of Empire Entertainment, a major recording label.  Each and every one of his sons is talented.  Andre Lyon (Trai Byers) is the oldest son and has a great feel for the business.  In fact, he has been helping Lucious run Empire Entertainment for years.  Jamal Lyon (Jussie Smollett) is a talented singer/songwriter whose sexuality causes a rift between him and Lucious.  The talent is there, but Lucious ignores it because his son is gay.  Hakeem Lyon (Bryshere Gray) is the youngest son, a hip hop singer on the rise whose partying ways threaten his career.

As Lucious prepares to take his company to a new level - making it public on the New York Stock Exchange.  Of course, that's when things start falling apart.  First, Lucious is diagnosed with ALS and his doctor gives him just about three years to live.  Three years is not a long time, just long enough for Lucious to choose his successor, but which one of his sons should lead the company.  There is no doubt in Lucious' mind that Andre has the business talent to lead the company, but Lucious wants a celebrity at the helm.  After all, it was Lucious and his celebrity, at the top of his game as a recording artist, that started Empire Entertainment.  Jamal is talented, but he won't make what Lucious has decided is a choice between being gay and a success.  Jamal is his greatest hope, but his son has had everything handed to him and just isn't hungry enough.

And then, there's Cookie (Taraji P. Henson), Lucious' ex-wife who has just been released from a thirty-year prison sentence early for - as Cookie says - good behavior.  Cookie is set to behave anything but good when she demands half of Lucious' company.  After all, it was Cookie's $400,000 of drug money that got the company started.  Since Lucious is not willing or able to give half of the company over, Cookie decides she needs just one thing - to manage her son Jamal and make him an extraordinary success.  She knows her son has the talent...he just needs the push.  If he can become as successful as she thinks he can, Cookie knows that Jamal would be poised to take over at Empire Entertainment...but will Jamal go along with her plans?

This year, FOX is poised to be a big television contender.  Empire is one of the best dramatic television series I have seen on FOX in a long time.  I wouldn't expect anything different from Lee Daniels, especially after seeing The Butler.  The acting on Empire is impeccable, the cast selection spot on, the writing excellent, but what really grabs you is the music.  Empire is all about the music, written by none other than Timbaland and performed by various cast members.  Jussie Smollett has a beautifully smooth R&B voice and Bryshere Gray is an excellent choice for a rising hip hop star.  If the premiere episode of Empire is anything to judge by, FOX and the creators of the show are going to be equally successful marketing an Empire: Season One Soundtrack

As for the storyline, I'm totally hooked.  There is more to Lucious and Cookie than meets the eye.  Both have grown up tough on the streets, hustling to get what they want, but Lucious has never quite squashed that gangster side of him, making him willing to do whatever necessary to keep what is his...even if that means getting a little blood on his hands.  After seeing the promos, I have a feeling we are about to learn that there is more to Cookie's prison release than just good behavior. 

Now, there are those who may have a problem with some of the dialogue in the show.  The dialogue of Empire is very explicit and the characters on the show often use profanity and hateful slang to get their points across.  I believe that this is done deliberately by the writers, trying to create as real an atmosphere for the viewers as possible.  These characters are not politically correct.  Behind that smooth, flashy look, they are as raw as they come and their dialogue often reflects that inner darkness.

I can't wait to check out another episode of Empire!  I want to see where the powers that be are going with this show.  Will Jamal become the ultimate success?  Will that be enough to rise to the top of the company or will Hakeem be the big winner?  And what about Andre?  Can he be sneaky enough to engage Jamal and Hakeem in a battle that will destroy them both, leaving Andre to lead the company?  We won't know unless we keep watching Empire every Wednesday at 9pm EST on FOX.


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