The commercials for Empire
that I’ve been seeing for the past few weeks have built up just the right amount of suspense, and the series premiere did not disappoint.
Lucious Lyon (Lucius Malfoy, anyone?) is the head of Empire, a music company that’s about to go live on the New York Stock Exchange for public trading. He’s clearly trying to ensure the security of his beloved business because, unbeknownst to anyone but him, he has ALS, a neurodegenerative disease currently without a cure.
He has to choose and train one of his three sons to run Empire after he’s gone, a complicated enough choice that only gets worse once his ex-wife struts back into the picture.
Cookie did 17 years in jail for running drugs, and now she’s demanding half the company from Lucious. At first, she seems like just another crazy ex, until she drops the bomb that Empire wouldn’t exist without the $400,000 in drug money she invested initially. Uh-oh.
Then we meet their son Jamal, whose musical talent shines throughout the entire show. He and Cookie have always been close, but Lucious can’t accept his son being gay. Jamal has the potential to run Empire, but his relationship with his father is proving to be a barrier, and he isn’t the type to really stand up for what he wants.
Jamal and his younger brother Hakeem are thick as thieves, even more so because Hakeem loves music just as much as he does. In fact, between Jamal’s singing and Hakeem’s rapping, they’re the dynamic duo. Hakeem is already caught up in the lifestyle, though, chasing the women and cars. Plus he’s got a serious attitude problem, only slightly tempered by the fact that Lucious seems to be the only one able to control him.
Hakeem has zero respect for Cookie, mainly because he spent most of his life without her and she’s a bit…aggressive. He has the nerve to call her a bitch, which instantly makes me cringe for several reasons–the biggest of those reasons being that I was raised in a Caribbean household, and there are certain things you NEVER do unless you’re hellbent on dying young. Cookie doesn’t take too well to the label; her attempt at teaching him a lesson involves some brutal lashings with a broomstick. Yikes.
Andre is brother #3, also the oldest of the trio. He’s all about the business, and has been his father’s right-hand man within Empire since the very beginning. Naturally, he thinks he deserves to take over. Here’s the deal, though–Andre was born without the musical talent that the rest of his family shares, so it’s less likely he’ll be chosen. Not that he’s going to let that stop him from scheming and playing on his mother’s affection to reach his goals. He plants the idea in her head that managing Jamal will be her meal-ticket.
The most moving moment within the show is also one of my favorites. Jamal is performing in a club, while his mother, boyfriend, and friend look on. The song is called “Good Enough,” and it’s all about Lucious piling expectations on top of him while refusing to accept his son for who he really is. As he sings, we watch a flashback of Jamal when he was younger. He walked into the living room dressed as a girl, which sent Lucious into a rage. Cookie had to basically fight Lucious off to protect her son, which was heartbreaking. The song is downright beautiful, and if that’s the kind of music this show is going to be churning out, I’m all for it.
The conflict is rounded out by two supporting characters, Anika Gibbons and Bunkie. Anika is Lucious’ girlfriend, prim and proper compared to Cookie’s fiery and loud. She hasn’t had a face-to-face with the ex yet, but sparks are bound to fly once she does.
Bunkie is Lucious’ longtime friend, now a glorified lackey. Cookie’s return makes Bunkie realize just how much Lucious has begun to mistreat him over the years. He threatens Lucious with a gun, demanding $3 million. Lucious talks him down and they meet up later, supposedly to exchange money. Instead, Lucious shoots and kills him.
The premiere ends with Jamal deciding to take Cookie up on her offer to be his manager and help him become a star. This is perfect for Cookie, who can now become an official employee at Empire, with the more-than-comfortable salary to match. However, she does legally sign away any right to reveal that she was Empire’s first investor.
Hakeem is working on an album with Lucious, too. He and Jamal are about to be thrown into competition against their will, a fact that Jamal assures Hakeem won’t come between them.
I have high hopes for this show. I’m most excited at its focus on the music industry; Nashville
quickly disappointed me, and I think there’s a hole there that Empire
may be able to fill. The family dynamic is unique, one I think the writers have a lot of room to expand on, especially because I suspect the characters are a lot more complex than they first appear to be.
What did you think, PopWrappers? Are you tuning in next week? Let us know!
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