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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. 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 a couple of decades 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. He and his bank account look down from the mountaintop on everyone but Jay Z and Queen Bey. And he and Cookie—his recently un-incarcerated, force-of-nature wife—are looking to change that.

But uneasy is the head that wears the crown, and this king’s got a lot on his plate—along with, three—no, four sons who all want to eat from it.

Family Matters

Oldest son Andre inherited his pop's business acumen. The well-dressed man couldn't rap a fajita, but Jamal's got a voice anyone this side of Bruno Mars would envy. And he clearly has some composing skills on his side, too. You’d think he would be the natural heir apparent—but a couple of issues work against him.

First, he’s gay, and that was a big issue between him and his pops for the first few seasons. Jamal and Lucious worked things out by Season 5—but Jamal can’t catch a break. See, the actor playing him—Justin Smollett—has been having some pretty scandalous legal problems of his own in the real world, and showrunners say he’ll be written out of the show altogether. Talk about a messy split.

Hakeem’s the baby of the family. He's got the musical chops to carry on Lucious' legacy—at least on the days he's not too hung over—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.

Then, of course, there’s Jeff, Lucious’s long-lost and illegitimate son, back either to make a place for himself at the family table or to knock out its legs. And truth be told, he’d probably prefer to do the latter. Not only did Jeff never know his father, but he barely knew his mother: She got addicted to the crack Lucious and Cookie sold her. Nothing’s stronger than blood, it seems—especially bad blood.

And Cookie? For years, all she wanted was to reign over the empire that she helped build with drug money and blood and family. But now, she’s reconsidering the cost of it all. “We’ve done bad things, Lucious,” she says. “And it’s coming back to collect.”

Record Scratch

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.

But Empire also asks viewers to drink down a tall glass of sex, language and violence. Those things aren't as pronounced or as oppressive as they are on premium cable, of course, but there’s not much TV-PG here, either.

Jamal's homosexuality has been a key plot point for much of the drama’s run, and the camera has never shied away from showing how—and with whom—he rolls in that area. That said, we’ll have to wait and see how the show handles Smollett’s departure and, consequently, the remaining characters’ future.

As for his heterosexual peers and their slinky conquests, sexy is as sexy does in the world of rap. 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 ridden high on this buzzy, guilty pleasure of a show. And maybe bees are an apt analogy here. Because while Empire offers its share of honey, it has a serious sting, too.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles



Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

March 13, 2019: "My Fault Is Past"
Empire - September 30, 2015 "Without a Country"
Empire: 1-7-2015



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; A.Z. Kelsey as Jeff Kingsley






Record Label




On Video

Year Published



Paul Asay

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