Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review: Empire Season 1

Title: Empire Season 1
Starring: Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Jussie Smollett
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Music
Episodes: 12

It's become a common trend that people have ditched their cable or satellite providers and have strictly stuck to streaming. I totally understand the switch as it is possibly cheaper to keep up with and the choices of programming is way more vast than what channels provide, especially when these shows come on a specific day and time. Nonetheless, I still find myself being content with having cable and watching television programs that air weekly. I just can't imagine being without it. Because of that, I do find new shows to get into from time to time. This was one of them that caught my eye with its commercials.

Lucious Lyon is founder and CEO of a very successful record label, Empire Entertainment, and finds out that he has been diagnosed with ALS. As he continues to keep his business alive, he must decide on which of his three sons will inherit his business once he passes away. Meanwhile, Cookie Lyons, Lucious' ex-wife and co-founder of Empire, is released from prison and tries to reclaim her position at the company as well as repair her relationship with her sons.

I've heard the popular comparison of this show to the Terrence Howard movie, Hustle & Flow, which I'm sure bare some similarities, but I've never seen the movie. I went into this series with an open mind, curious and a bit nervous how this would go. Would this be some stereotypical fanfare that causes me to cringe? Would the music featured be as annoying as what's trending on mainstream radio? Obviously, I had many concerns, but the show surprisingly progressed African Americans forward in a lot of ways. Let's start with the characters! If you only focus on the Lyon family, there are some cliches/tropes laced within their personalities and background, but the story develops and shapes them into something not as regressive as say Tyler Perry movies. In the past, Lucious and Cookie were involved in the drug business while working their way up in Lucious' music career. Instead of Lucious leaving his three sons behind because of his life choice, Cookie takes the fall and is the one arrested. No matter what, both parents want to be involved in their children's lives, even though there are strains in the relationship between them. Lucious has moved on with another woman and has become very successful with his label, while Cookie was incarcerated. Andre, the oldest son, has faithfully stayed by his father's side by working as CFO, but struggles to reconnect with Cookie once she is released. Jamal, the middle son, doesn't have the best relationship with Lucious due to him not accepting his homosexual relationship. Of course, Cookie is very supportive of his relationship and launching his musical career. Hakeem, the youngest son, wants to follow in his father's footsteps of making a name for himself in the hip-hop industry, but approaches certain situations recklessly or naively. Each of these do have hints of stereotypical traits seen in countless television shows and movies, but also add an extra layer to it.

Empire isn't a show that you're going to attach yourself to every character. The characters are very well developed and interesting, but honestly, you're not going to like a lot of the characters. Since the concept revolves the music industry, it can't be helped to have some dirty characters and underhanded scheming. These elements are what keeps the viewers hooked and saves the characters from being flat stereotypes: the story. This show presents plenty of drama, twists, and turns. It also deals with issues that I'm sure many black families try to ignore or struggle with such as homosexuality, ALS, and bipolar disorder. As well as common issues with interracial relationships, gang activity, infidelity, and paternity disputes. These obstacles do not drag or seem unnecessary for drama sake...well, there might be a couple moments, but it's still entertaining. It feels very natural and it's paced well enough for the audience and the characters to absorb and evolve from it. Each episode feels like there's definite progression and causes you to want more by the end of the episode. I know the season finale made me feel upset that it was all over and I would have to wait. Lastly, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the music featured throughout each episode. As someone who has stopped caring about the (American) hip-hop genre since 2003/2004, I was very relieved to hear something good. Good enough to want the soundtrack, although the purchasing system/track availability is silly. I might not enjoy every song, but I liked that there was variety that fit each artists' style and personality.

Empire is a welcoming contribution to the few TV shows on air that feature a predominently black cast. It has interesting, well developed, diverse characters; an entertaining story, some surprising but welcomed special guests, and enjoyable music. The second season will be returning on Fox on September 23, 2015. I am very much looking forward to what's going to happen with the Lyon family.

Rating: 4/5

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