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Friday, January 9, 2015

PILOT REVIEW: Empire

EMPIRE












Starring: Terrence Howard, Bryshere Gray, Jussie Smollett, Trai Byers, Grace Gealey, Malik Yoba, Kaitlin Doubleday, and Taraji P. Henson

Created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong
Written by Lee Daniels & Danny Strong, Directed by Lee Daniels

THE PREMISE: Empire is a sprawling new hip hop soap opera surrounding a powerful record company, Empire Entertainment. Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) is a former drug dealer who is now the CEO of the huge company, but he has been diagnosed with ALS. His ex-wife, Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) is back in the picture after a seventeen year prison sentence for dealing drugs, and she wants a stake in the company. Lucious is trying to groom one of his sons (Bryshere Gray, Jussie Smollett, and Trai Byers) into taking over the company. Rounding out the main cast is Lucious' girlfriend, Anika (Grace Gealey), his longtime business partner Vernon (Malik Yoba), and his scheming daughter-in-law, Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday).

THE GOOD: Let's just start this with Taraji P. Henson. I liked her on Person of Interest, and the show has not been the same since she left, but she just commands the screen in this show. She looks like she is having a blast. I saw a twitter post comparing her to Joan Collins from Dynasty and that is definitely the role she is filling, but in a 2015 hip hop world. Without a doubt, she is making this show so far with a performance that was so full of life and character. Terrence Howard is very strong in the lead role as well. The show definitely has a tone its trying to set and I really enjoyed it, because it's a culture I don't know much about. I don't know how true to life it is, but I think it seems pretty accurate.

THE BAD: I feel like I didn't really get too invested in the stories of the three sons except for as they related to Howard or Henson. They are pretty key characters, but I wasn't too interested in the storylines on their own (the manipulative wife, the gay lover, etc). While the hip hop setting is very fresh, the show needs to be careful to not rely on good old soap opera storylines or else it will run into the same problem Nashville did after its promising pilot and look into the country world. If I keep watching it, it will be to see the inner workings of the hip hop world, not the hook-ups and break-ups of an average primetime soap.

BOTTOM LINE: On paper, Empire doesn't seem like my type of show but I was really intrigued and I will definitely watch it again next week. Taraji P. Henson is such a revelation in this show and it seems like it has a story to tell and many places to go. I'm a little leery after my experience with Nashville, but I'm hoping things will be different.

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