Empire begins with all the drama you would expect, but with the type of personalities, and backgrounds, you aren’t used to seeing in a drama, with soap opera elements.
Review (with Spoilers) – Below
Characters & Story
It took 17 years, but Lucious (Terrence Howard) found a way to go from a drug dealer to the head of a media empire. All the while, his ex-wife cookie (Taraji P. Henson) was in jail to protect the business. However, now she is out and wants what is due to her. Half of which is the company she helped make and the other is the love, affection, and respect of her sons. Of which the oldest, so it seems, is Andre (Trai Byers), who is the college grad who has all the business expertise; then you have Jamal (Jussie Smollett), who is the sensitive songwriter who is gay, talented, and deals with the homophobia of his father whenever they meet; and then there is Hakeem (Bryshere Gray), who is an up and coming rapper who has no respect for anyone, fully takes advantage of the privilege his father gives him, and yet seems to be the favorite. An issue because with Lucious having ALS, one of his sons he expects to be his successor. That is if his empire doesn’t collapse beneath him.
As I am sure you heard by now, Ms. Henson is the star, the reason to watch, and perhaps the most compelling person on this show, if not the most compelling Black actress on TV today. For as Zeba Blay said in her article, “What the Success of ‘Empire’ Says About Representations of Black Women on TV Today” Cookie is so important. As to why? Well, let’s look at the landscape of Black female representation? The ones most talked about are those from Shonda Rhimes, the law professionals whose love lives are filled with the type of abuse we hope never happen to our daughters, and then there is Mary Jane on Being Mary Jane. All of which are the respectable Black woman, on paper. They went to college, have fancy jobs, and their only blemish is the one which doesn’t taint their public persona. But with Cookie, and how Ms. Henson plays her, she ups Gabrielle Union’s character code-switching and is on the level of the reality shows many respectability politics loving Black people verbally hate, yet may claim as a guilty pleasure.
Now, as for why I went on a bit of a tangent when it comes to that, well it is because Cookie is refreshing. For Henson has the type of role usually only seen in movies. One in which this woman who sacrificed for her man, is mad she isn’t getting her dues, and is dealing with disrespect from every angle, is fighting back. Though not in the type of way in which she is poised and polished. No, she is dressed to kill and has a knife for a tongue. Something which instantly draws you in despite Henson playing roles similar to Cookie before, but never with this much passion.
Now, as for the rest of the show? I must admit I surprisingly liked the music, including the rapping. Though what I’m really interested in is how the fight for the company may go, and the character of Jamal. For, again, what I like about this show is characters which don’t feel strongly familiar. For while gay men on TV is nothing new, nor ones in interracial relationships, but there is something about Jamal which is just appealing in comparison to his hood rich brother, and the other who is what many would look at as a sellout.
When it comes to criticism, perhaps the main issue I see here is the music possibly not being consistently good, or the viewer’s taste, and whether or not Cookie’s personality may get tired and old. For, at this point, never mind Terrence Howard as Lucious since, like Henson, we have seen him in a role like this before. However, unlike Henson, it doesn’t seem like he is upping his game. Then, when it comes to the cast, even though I like Jamal, I do believe if you snatched away him being gay, he has nothing but his songs to draw you to him. And that was a big issue for me in general. The show doesn’t have anything, besides Cookie and the songs, to really draw you in. For while seeing the less respected types of Black people in this big money world is truly interesting, there is the question of if the show may still follow the usual soap-opera drama, but just try to integrate these more “urban” personalities into the formula.
Overall: Watch It
I won’t pretend this show may fall prey to its own ambitions, but if it does burn itself out, it will be in a blaze of glory. For even if, arguably, Ms. Henson is carrying the show, at the same time it seemed Power, which some compare this show to, was the type of program which could go either way and look how good that program turned out. Though what separates this from Power is there is just enough unfamiliarity with this program to make it watching, if not sticking with. For likely we aren’t going to find many Cookie characters being written anytime soon, so minas well enjoy her while she lasts, anticipate what will come out her mouth/ her next move, and wonder if the other cast members may try to step their game up so they aren’t just living off what she brings to the show.