With the season two premiere of the runaway hit, “Empire,” on September 23, prime time television has gained a new comrade. The Fox juggernaut collected 16.2 million views – which is more or less impressive considering the season one finale racked up 17.62 million views. In fact, until Wednesday, Empire had rapidly been increasing in viewers – an anomaly taking into account viewer interest generally peaks early on a series.
The show centers on the opulent Lyon family and their three sons, who spent the first season attempting to gain favor with their father Lucious in order to take his place at the head of the family company, Empire Entertainment. The first season ended with the middle son Jamal taking the figurative throne and Lucious being – rightfully – convicted for the murder of his ex-wife, Cookie’s cousin. The subsequent arrest and rift in the brothers’ relationship left Lyon familial ties in precipitous decline.
As the family spirals out of control it is no wonder season two picks up on a dark note. While teaming up with her arch nemesis, Anika, and the venture capitalist Mimi Whiteman, to oust her son from the company Cookie – in her typical exhibitionist way – is attempting to obtain “justice” for the Lyon family patriarch by hosting #FreeLucious concerts.
By now, “Empire” could easily join the pool of other soap-operas that became too interested in exciting fans with melodrama and whitty one liners akin to today’s horror movies and cheap jump scares. Instead, the writers deliver every moment in a way that makes ‘Empire” a peak TV show you are not embarrassed to watch.
That is not to say everything ran smoothly with the premiere. Chris Rock’s underwhelming performance as a feared gang leader in the 90’s did not fit in with the show’s penchant for over-the-top characters. In fact, despite there being multiple high-profile guest stars many of them were misses. Marisa Tomei, although a great deal better than Rock, paled in comparison to Taraji P. Henson’s consistently solid portrayal of the bold Cookie. Though the guest appearances many not live up to the expectations put in place by the main cast, the coveted few minutes of screen time is a testament to the clout and cachet of the Empire .
Through its unforgettable casting of Henson and intelligently written script “Empire” prevents itself from falling into the crowd of shows people say they will watch but never actually do. Instead creator Lee Daniel ensures that viewers return every week for a new episode of “Empire” that is almost guaranteed to supersede its predecessors.