I think its official – Fox has a certified hit on their hands with Empire. The new show has tied How To Get Away With Murder for best debut of the TV season and saw its numbers only increase in its second week due to positive word of mouth from critics and fans alike.
Hell, two episodes in and Empire has already secured a second season. Setting a late-night soap opera in the world of the hip-hop industry is ingenious. What other industry embraces the luxury, drama, and loyalty that’s so embedded in hip-hop culture? The pair fit together like peanut butter and jelly or Snoop and Nate Dogg.
One of the most interesting and headline grabbing aspects of Empire is the way that the show is approaching homosexuality. It’s no secret that the hip-hop industry has serious problems with homophobia and Empire lets Lucious Lyon be the mouthpiece for that lack of understanding. He throws around derogatory terms and constantly tries to persuade his gay son Jamal that his lifestyle is something that can easily be dropped or changed.
In tonight’s episode, they have their most impassioned conversation yet. Terrance Howard does a fantastic job showing the conflict between Lucious wanting to embrace his son but not knowing how to understand his sexuality, while Jussie Smollett continues to give Jamal the thick skin and calm temper of a young man who’s been abused his whole life. As Empire picks up steam, these characters become more genuine and layered. Tonight we learned about new depths of Andre’s evil, more insight to Hakeem’s mommy issues, and saw a lot more fire out of Anika. I originally pictured this show slipping into absurdity quickly, but so far, things have only gotten more sure handed.
That doesn’t mean that the drama isn’t mounting. The investigation into Bunky’s death moves at light speed in this episode, with a police detective already finding a witness to the murder. That witness is a street bum named Old Salty who speaks in metaphors and verse and also ID’s Lucious as Bunky’s killer by the episodes end. The reliability of the witness will surely be called into question, but this is definitely going to make Lucious sweat.
Cookie’s storyline sees her reaching out to an old friend and collaborator named Puma, played with a laid-back charm by Cuba Gooding Jr. Puma had a crush on Cookie back in the day and still seems to be harboring one when Cookie visits to ask if he’ll write a hit song for Jamal. Puma delivers an awesomely ‘90s sounding slow jam that Jamal rearranges into a modern ballad. Years earlier, Lucious rejected the song, and as he hears it played again, he has deeply pensive flashbacks about he and Cookie’s relationship, another great scene acted by Howard. Though everyone at Empire agrees the song is beautiful, Lucious wants to steal the new arrangement and give it to another artist. It’s this that leads to the emotional father-son chat mentioned above which then results in Jamal surrendering his apartment and his father’s wealth to make it on his own. Also, Jamal is finally pissed enough to start gunning for Empire Records himself.
Cookie’s entanglement with the Feds is almost discovered this week by a scheming Anika, but Cookie and her “parole officer” stage a conversation to throw Lucious off the trail. That bought her sometime, but I’m waiting for more of this Fed business and talk about a Frank Gatis to bubble over in the coming weeks. After the episode ended this evening, Fox ran a promo giving an overview of the entire season, and it looks like things will only get wilder as we proceed.
As long as the Timbaland beats keep banging and the performances remain authentic, count me in.