At its most basic level, the deliciously entertaining family soap Empire is King Lear with a modern hip-hop/R&B soundtrack. This King is Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) a modern hip-hop mogul diagnosed with a fatal disease, suddenly forced to choose which of his three sons will inherit his business Empire Entertainment. If that weren’t hard enough for him, throw in his ex-wife Cookie (Taraji P. Henson), suddenly out of prison after 17 years, who shows up at his doorstep to take what is hers… that is, the company that she helped fund with drug money until she got thrown in the slammer (oops).
Lucious, a proud and vain man, looks at all of his sons with a bit of disdain as he tries to shape each into someone he considers worthy of his empire. The oldest son Andre (Trai Byers) has the best head for business, but has always felt lesser in the eyes of his father because he has no musical talent. The middle son Jamal (Jussie Smollett) is probably the most talented, with his sweet R&B/pop stylings, but, well, he’s openly gay, which is completely unforgivable to Lucious. Finally, there is the golden boy, the youngest Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray), a rapper who is not the brightest, but seems a nice enough kid as he is pulled back and forth in loyalty as he tries to be Empire’s next big star.
Lucious watches all of his family and friends like a man studying a chess game. He is quick to manipulate, lie, backstab, and even kill to keep his power. Shakespearean, indeed! Just when you think he has a little bit of a soul, he turns and does something completely douchey. The problem is, if you don’t give him loyalty, he will destroy you.
But let’s not kid ourselves. There are two true stars of this show.
The first is the music. Produced by Timbaland, each episode pulses around the music and often play an integral part of the story. Jamal, especially, finds his soul when he deals with his father issues, and Hakeem’s raps come to life when he gets cranky (even if ear-candy like “Drip Drop” is hard to get out of your head).
And the second star, and my personal favorite thing that got me binge-watching Empire, is Taraji P. Henson as Cookie. Oh man, as soon as she shows up in her faux fur coat right out of prison, she completely steals the whole show. She is a hoot. She is to Empire what Heather Locklear was to Melrose Place, and that is the highest compliment. She owns every scene she is in, gets the most hilarious lines, and is the heart and soul of the show. I was honestly disappointed that she didn’t get the Emmy that she was most deservedly nominated for.
But oh, I just found out that Season Two is streaming… I’ll see y’all later…
The Blu-ray release unsurprisingly features a lot of extras featuring the music. Over a dozen songs are included in their full uncut performance. There are also featurettes about the mucis production for the show, as well as the style and fashion. Finally, there is commentary on the pilot episode.