Commentary: Why Fox’s Series Empire is Taking Over

Empire

You guys will have to forgive me – I wrote this piece WEEKS ago for another website I was freelance writing for. However, the founders of the site are starting a new project and putting the website on hold for now. That being said, I had meant to post this piece MUCH earlier. I apologize that it is a bit outdated – if you do still read this, bless your heart. And if you do read it, put yourself in a February state of mind. Again, all apologies – I have been a bit swamped with school, work, and some family things. Again, to all of my readers, thank you. I usually don’t try to “repost” things, but I am giving myself this one-time exception.

Update to post as of March 3, 2015: My crush on Jussie Smollett has basically grown tenfold. That is all.

Jussie Smollett

Dat face doe. *Swoon*

Over the past month, I have found myself completely engrossed in a new television show – Fox’s drama series Empire. And clearly it is not just me that is tuning in. Although the series is only four (soon to be five) episodes in, it has consistently brought in more and more viewers every week.

So what is this absolutely fantastic show about? For starters, Empire stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson – a divorced couple that are trying to run a music company called Empire Entertainment. While it initially seems like the classic power struggle between a man and a woman and the other family casualties, it delves into far greater issues than that. During the pilot, we see Henson’s character, Cookie, being released from prison after 17 years only to hunt down her ex-husband Lucious Lyon (Howard) in order to regain half of the company she helped launch nearly two decades prior. Together, Cookie and Lucious have three sons: Andre (played by Trai Byers), Jamal (Jussie Smollett), and Hakeem (Bryshere Gray). Andre is a daddy pleaser aka “let me follow everything dad does so I can take over the company,” Jamal – although his character is gay – is my next boyfriend because that man can sing any woman’s pants off, and Hakeem is – to put it nicely – such a shit, but it’s no wonder given the way Lucious treats him versus the way Jamal has been treated while Cookie has serving her sentence. And so the plot ensues…

But the craziest thing about this show is that it started off with over 9.5 million viewers, but now, a month later, it has garnered over 11.3 million viewers. Let me know if you need a moment to wipe brain matter (from your brain exploding) off of your computer screen. Because apart from New Girl, this has to be Fox’s greatest series. I don’t want to hear it from any fans of Glee. Because if you think Glee knows what’s up with music, then clearly you have not been tuning into Empire. Not only that, but the last time a television show was able to draw this many viewers was over ten years ago with the creation of Grey’s Anatomy. With that show on its 11th season, and it still being one of my other favorite television shows, it is no question that a series has staying power if it has viewing power.

Now, I am not at all trying to make this piece anything about race. Whatsoever. But Empire has found a way to illustrate black culture in a manner that has drawn in a multitude of ethnicities, with 62% of its viewers of African American descent. It is the first time, in a long time – in my humble opinion – that a show did not seek out to please the masses (yet is somehow doing so), but rather it has targeted underserved audiences. Empire is a total paradox. A juxtaposition, if you will. It is mainstream without being mainstream. And it is dominating Wednesday night television. Credit here has to go to creator Lee Daniels. But more than just black culture, Empire tackles some very hard hitting issues that anyone can relate to, including gay rights and homophobia, ALS (as we’ve all seen with the ice bucket challenges), and it gets down into the grittiest corners of family drama and dynamics. The kinds that we typically television tends to shy away from. Seriously, as I’ve watched this show unfold, I have often wondered if I am actually watching a series on HBO or Starz.

What is more is that in the first few episodes, Daniels and his team have managed to bring the cast to life. I mean, I sit back on my couch every week, and only wish I could be as badass as Cookie. The woman has one-liners for days, she is a fierce mother that protects her sons, and she knows exactly who she is. And she owns it. Meanwhile, Lucious is a terrifying music mogul whose behavior throughout this series has been a tad unprecedented. Then again, he makes it clear that no one will come between him, his company, and his family. Regardless, Daniels has made characters that we can simultaneously love and hate. Each of them are sexy, malicious, strong, charming, and ultimately, so incredibly dynamic.

Empire is Shakespearean in all of its drama and nail biting moments, but it has far more than climaxes. The show itself is incredibly addictive, and if more series could aspire to be this way, then we would see a true rise in the quality of what we watch every week.

Empire is raw, it is real, it is gritty. It is humanity at its finest, and at its worst. Hell, we’ve all had those moments, right? And it has some kickass music as well (although I may be biased here as I grew up on hip-hop and R&B). But either way, it is a show that you need to be watching. Because the rest of America already is.

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