Eyes on the Empire


empire1Like most urbanites, I was anxious to see the premiere of Fox’s new television show entitled, Empire. It was difficult to drive around the city of LA without seeing a billboard or poster promoting this intriguing new hip-hop drama about the music business.  I typically don’t follow network TV shows, but I clearly was captivated by the hype and the unique storyline.

Once I began to watch the show, I was drawn in by the music and the myriad of complex characters.  Including, Terrence Howard as the patriarch of a musical dynasty and his convoluted relationship with his recently paroled ex-wife, played by the dynamic Taraji P. Henson.  Howard and Henson bring an instant credibility to the storyline, with their superb acting skills and on-screen presence. My biggest concern while watching Empire was, would it be authentic? Authenticity in the world of hip-hop is critical to an artist’s success and usually determines their level of success and acceptability – but there are exceptions like Iggy Azalea, who sounds like she’s a karaoke rapper that hasn’t been booed offstage yet.

Other than a few corny moments, where Howard’s sons attempt to collaborate on a hit song to appease their demanding father — I felt as though the show was realistic.  To enhance the credibility of the leading actors, Howard and Henson, director Lee Daniels incorporated flashbacks to a grittier time in their relationship as a successful drug dealer and an aspiring rapper trying to make it “big.”

The flashbacks also provide a back story into the evolution of their children’s lives and their complicated relationship with their parents.  In one scene, Howard’s middle son, who’s struggling with “coming out” can be seen prancing into the living room wearing his mother’s clothing.   Howard’s character angrily responds and picks up his son and throws him into a trash can outside.  I recently read that this was an actual event that occurred in director Lee Daniels’ life as a boy.  So apparently, Mr. Daniels who is one of the executive producers, has created a character within the show, that he can vicariously tell his personal story through as part of a fictional musical dynasty.

The inclusion of a gay hip-hop artist was quite surprising and I’m sure caused a lot of viewers to question the overall theme of the TV show.  Watching the way that Howard’s character handled his relationship with his gay son was quite awkward but also provided a real-life perspective on how difficult it must be for a father to accept his son’s lifestyle.

Despite his feelings towards his son, Lucious, the main character must decide which of his three sons will ascend to the throne of his soon-to-be publicly traded hip hop empire.  However, this narrative is severely flawed because it’s obvious that his older Ivy league educated son, Andre, is the clear choice to be the next CEO.  His other two sons, who are both artists, seem to be completely unqualified and uninterested in running a large company.  Which begs the question, how could a successful businessman like Lucious not clearly see the obvious choice? Would he risk turning over a thriving music business to his younger son, who seems to be struggling to develop his career while dealing with the temptations of being young, rich and famous? Most likely not, but the producers apparently thought it could work.

After the pilot episode was over, I felt like there were too many dynamics to consider within the story.  Lucious murders his long-time friend who was seeking to extort money from him, Lucious finds out he has terminal ALS, his wife is recently released from prison and finagles her way into his company, his sons are dealing with the return of their estranged mother, his older son his plotting with his mother to take control of the company, his ex-wife is jealous of his new girlfriend, Lucious is worried about taking his company public etc.  All of these elements didn’t have to be revealed in the pilot episode, it felt as though the director was overreaching.

Regardless of the flawed storyline, Empire certainly seems like a show worth watching and I’m curious to see how the series unfolds.  Like most of the 9.8 million viewers that tuned in last week, I’ll be watching tonight to see if the show is truly destined to become an “empire.”

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