When you mix the sound of Timothy "Timbaland” Mosley — Timberland with the calibrated perfection of director-producer Lee Daniels, it’s a no-brainer that an empire would rise from such a connection.
“Empire” is a hit. The Fox 1/6 premiere opened impressively with 9.8 million viewers and a 3.7 rating among adults 18-49.
This Fox drama beat ABC’s “Modern Family” head-to-head.
Shakespearean in tone with a nod to “King Lear” this series is about Black wealth inside a modern music dynasty which was earned from a life on the gritty, Philly streets by Empire Entertainments' head, Lucious Lyon, played by the riveting Terrence Howard.
If “money makes the world go around” then wealth tells it when to “stop and go.”
Straight talk, Lucious is a drug dealer-turned-rap star-turned-record mogul with a midas touch who, of late, has turned his eye to global diversification and, to one of his three sons, is ''more concerned with selling T-shirts and watches and whatever."
His driving ambition to transform Empire into a global brand rests in his desire to cement a place in the history books. His health failing, he learns that he’s dying from ALS.
His sacrifice that affords him a life of luxury—has to be carefully protected and to that end, he reveals his monstrous shades.
He needs the right successor, and sets his three sons in motion to fight for the crown.
On paper, it’s an unfair fight; a gladiatorial spectacle that will get gory.
The eldest, Andre (Trai Byers) is a seasoned businessman with an
Ivy League M.B.A. and a white girlfriend to back-up his bid. He’s that comfortable face that will make, a mostly white board of directors, comfortable that their agenda will be safely achieved.
On the other side is the baby, the very green Hakeem (Bryshere Gray) who, according to his father is “lazy" and "hasn’t worked a day in his life” but from the videos he appears to be earning his street credits with his hard-partying and skillful rap skills.
His strong relationship with his brother Jamal (Jussie Smollett), clearly a musical prodigy seems, on the surface is a mis-match since Jamal is also gay which, in Lucious' eyes, makes him a marketing nightmare and his least favorite choice.
In a heart breaking flashback he puts his young, high-heel wearing son inside a trash can cementing a lasting impression that he was never wanted.
It’s a knock out moment expressed in Jamal's song ''I Just Want You to Look at Me,'’ which is filled pain and old heartache.
But, don’t get it twisted the empire belongs to Cookie, played with verve by Taraji P. Henson.
Offering one of the most interesting characters in years, she plays the “hell out of” Cookie, Lucious' ex, the boys' mother, and a clever iteration of the neglected, and incarcerated good wife.
Cookie was serving 17 long years (in prison) for selling drugs for her husband and her surprise, early release makes the series pop and sizzle with energy.
Not only is Lucious not pleased, he is stunned at the timing.
The second Cookie struts out of the slammer, rocking a fur and utterly furious, the audience is rooting for her to get what’s hers.
The stakes are high and not only because billions are on the table, it’s family and personal. To that end, she turns her deft hand at constructing Jamal's career and backs his coming out of the closet.
Cookie says the damnedest things, but it's Henson’s show. This role would come off as pandering, or worse, campy instead she elevates the role and keeps the character human, endearing and fascinating.
Lee Daniels is a game changer and he brings his A team along to build the empire correctly.
“Empire" comes from writer Danny Strong ("Game Change") and director Lee Daniels (“Precious")—collaborators on 2013's “Lee Daniels: The Butler."
Empire keeps it gritty and authentic and the music makes it relevant. A+