TV Series Review
If you're into fame and fortune, you know that building it is just half the battle. Keeping it—well, that's something else again. And Lucious Lyon has a lot to keep.
Lucious grew up on the streets. He was selling drugs by the time he turned 9, growing more violent by the day in the venomous world that surrounded him. Sure, he had some skills as a rapper, and he and his wife, Cookie, banked on his talents to rescue them. But they bankrolled their dreams with drug money—and their freelance pushing eventually got Cookie tossed into the slammer.
Life looks a lot different for Lucious 17 years later. He doesn't spit into the mic much these days. Now he owns the guys who are spitting into the mic. He's rolled his rhymes into a massive music conglomerate called Empire Records, and he and his bank account look down from the mountaintop on everyone but Jay Z and Queen Bey—and he's looking to change that.
He'll have to do it fast. Lucious has ALS, and his doctors give him three years, more or less. That doesn't afford him a lot of time to choose and groom a successor. The guy's gotta be one of his three boys, of course, but each comes with a set of problems.
Oldest son Andre inherited his pop's business acumen. But the well-dressed man couldn't rap a fajita. And Lucious believes the man who inherits an entertainment company should be an entertainer, too.
Jamal fits that bill just fine. He's got a voice anyone this side of Bruno Mars would envy, and he clearly has some composing skills on his side. Only one thing: He's gay. And that's a big issue for his dad.
That leaves Hakeem, the baby of the family. He's got the raw chops to carry on Lucious' legacy—at least on the days he's not too hung over to spit—and he's got the lifestyle down pat. But putting in the hard work needed to run a big company? Well, he's about as motivated as a sun-loving basset hound with a bowl of drank nearby.
And while the future of Empire looks a little hazy, Lucious' past is clouding it even more. Cookie's out of prison, and she's not forgotten that her ex-hubby founded his multiquintillion-dollar enterprise on the drug money she made. The drug money she paid the price for. Not to mention that Lucious has some skeletons of his own he'd like to keep in the closet.
Empire is a Dallas-like soap that boasts the superior acting talents of Oscar nominees Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson and Gabourey Sidibe. Created by Lee Daniels (director of The Butler) and Danny Strong (screenwriter for The Butler, as well as the final two Hunger Games movies), it has a plot pulled (in varying degrees) from Shakespeare's King Lear and James Goldman's The Lion in Winter. The vibe feels as lush and preening as a Kanye West track.
Like that typical West rap, though, Empire also asks viewers to drink down a tall glass of sex, language and violence—practically must-have requisites for prestige dramas these days. Those things aren't as pronounced or as oppressive as they are on premium cable, of course, but there nothing so tame as TV-PG here either.
Jamal's homosexuality is a key dramatic plot point, and the camera doesn't shy away from showing how—and with whom—he rolls in that area. As for his heterosexual peers and their slinky conquests, sexy is as sexy does in the world of rap, and there's no doubt about the doing here. And while music has always been a cutthroat business, Lucious seems to take that more literally than most. He's not above killing anyone who might threaten his empire.
Fox has high hopes for this buzzy show. And maybe bees are an apt analogy here. Because while Empire offers its share of honey, it has a serious sting, too.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Terrence Howard as Lucious Lyon; Taraji P. Henson as Cookie; Trai Byers as Andre; Jussie Smollett as Jamal; Bryshere Gray as Hakeem; Kaitlin Doubleday as Rhonda; Malik Yoba as Vernon; Grace Gealey as Anika; Gabourey Sidibe as Becky