Pilot Review: Empire

To conclude this fairly busy week of premieres, I will take a look at FOX’s new show Empire.

When It Airs: Wednesdays on FOX at 9:00 EST

Summary: After he is diagnosed with ALS, Lucious Lyon begins to think about the legacy of Empire Records and which of his three sons will one day take over for him. At the same time, his ex-wife Cookie is released from prison and demands a stake in the company she went to jail for.

My Impressions: This show didn’t quite capture my attention to the extent that Galavant and Agent Carter did earlier in the week but it made me want to watch next week’s episode, which I suppose is the true goal of a pilot. While I can’t honestly say that I loved the pilot, I think there is a lot of potential for me to enjoy it.

Since it’s a show about the music industry, it needs original music. Timbaland is producing the music for the show and I love it. I probably wouldn’t choose to listen to all of it independently, but there is a lot of it that I would. A few of the songs feel like they could be genuine hits if they were to be widely released and that’s exactly how I think they should sound. The music needs to make the show feel real and it succeeded in the pilot.

Its next strength is the casting of Terrance Howard as Lucious Lyon and Taraji P. Henson as Cookie Lyon. Henson is fantastic in every scene she’s in. Cookie is such a big presence and she sells every aspect of her. Howard really shines when he’s in the studio or with his sons. He slips so well into both the role of father and record executive. However, magic really happens when the two interact. Their chemistry is fantastic, with so many layers of caring, anger, and the shadows of a tumultuous past running through every scene together.

I’m looking forward to seeing more of the three brothers interact. Right now, each one seems to fit neatly into a role that has been predefined for them by the expectations of their father but when he isn’t around, we see a different side to their dynamics. I am especially interested in the relationship between Hakeem and Jamal. On the surface, they couldn’t be more different. Hakeem is harder and happy to indulge in (and rap about) all the things most associated with rappers today. Jamal’s genre of choice is more contemplative and draws from his emotions and experiences. He comes across as the gentler of the two brothers to the outside world and is content to be less well-known if it means his music can be more genuine while Hakeem prefers the spotlight. But it’s when Hakeem is with Jamal that he can let his facade slip. He can admit his vulnerabilities to his brother who wants success for him. He can accept help and it’s when they collaborate on their music that they are strongest.

That dynamic looks like it will quickly be tested, as they are being used by their father and mother as pawns and exemplars in the battle for the company (and family). Regardless of what Andre and his wife seem to think, I suspect he’ll remain on the outside, never quite fitting in due to his lack of artistic ability. He may temporarily get the power and respect that he craves but I don’t think it can last.

This show is incredibly melodramatic but it works well because it knows that and relishes in the soapy nature of it. Everything is big and dramatic, which makes the quieter moments more powerful and striking. It was a strong start to the season, with great ratings for it’s first episode, and I hope that the quality only continues to improve as the season goes along.

What did you think of Empire? Will you be sticking around for episode 2?


2 thoughts on “Pilot Review: Empire

  1. I watched it, but haven’t done a review yet. I thought of Dallas and Dynasty from the 80’s. Instead of oil or cattle ranching, the commodity is music. But like any family drama – be it King Lear or The Godfather, the family business is at the core. Any like any family drama be it The Good Wife or Nashville – some of it will be great and some of it it won’t.

    I loved your comment in the review about the show being big and dramatic which made the quieter scenes more powerful.

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