“Empire”, part family saga, part “Glee”, and part soap opera, is an entertaining new television series on Fox with something for everyone!
Created by Lee Daniels (of “Precious” and “The Butler” fame), “Empire” gives both Terrence Howard as Lucious Lyons and Taraji P. Henson as Cookie, his ex-wife, the platform to demonstrate their considerable acting and singing skills. The drama focues on hip-hop music mogul, Lucious Lyons, an underworld lowlife criminal whose wife took the seventeen-year prison sentence he should have had as partners in crime. Empire Entertainment, the hugely successful music company Lucious built while Cookie was in prison, is worth a fortune. Now the three sons fight for control, hoping to inherit fortune, fame, and power while their father is expected to die of a terminal illness. An IPO is pending and the sibling rivalry becomes ugly. Moreover, Cookie has suffered and after seventeen years separated from her sons, she now wants to claim what is rightfully hers: her sons and half of Empire.
The number-one broadcast drama on television, , “Empire” has the rich dialogue expected of the best screenwriters overlaid with the campy, over-the-top performances one usually associates with soap opera. But there is one very big difference. Cookie steals every scene she is in –a force of nature who chews up her lines and the other characters, a ferocious lioness and a comic. One of my favorite lines: Cookie’s view of her son’s false bravado, posturing about life in the ‘hood’– “The streets ain’t made for everyone – that’s why they made sidewalks.”
To say the Lyons family is dysfunctional is an understatement. There’s the gay son, Jamal, battling with the cold, sadistic homophobic father (Lucious), the defiant son Hakeem, experiencing “dearest Mommy” issues, and the outlier son, Andre, who is excluded from all communications that count. Cookie’s return to the family fold begs the question: What is family, when the mother has been imprisoned for seventeen years?
The empathy for characters, unfortunately, does not always flow smoothly when the music appears. Mostly rap, the songs sometimes jar the narrative, although they can be appealing to the younger viewer. “You’re So Beautiful” is an exception, sung by Jamal, a leitmotif connecting the past rejection by his father with the present confidence as he comes out as gay. Cookie glows as she revels in Jamal, her favorite son, the one who has her soul.
As the undisputed star of Empire, Cookie is the most watchable character in a highly watchable show. Carbonated joy. Delicious. It’s all about Cookie!