WOAW’s What to Watch- Empire (SPOILER ALERT!)

I’ve been waiting for Fox’s Empire to start for months. Football fans are familiar with the commercials, I’m sure. It has been shoved at us through half of the football season. Every time the commercial came on, I told my husband I wanted to watch and he would say something like, “Have fun,” or “That’s all you.” He doesn’t know what he’s missing!

Below is a summary of what happened in the pilot, which was only an hour. AN HOUR and ALL this STUFF happened. I’m going to try to recap from memory here (with help from Wikipedia), so apologies if I mess something up.

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Empire’s family. From the left, that’s Andre, Cookie, Lucious (sitting), Jamal, and Hakeem.

Empire centers around the Empire record company, run by Lucious Lyon (played by Terrence Howard). Within minutes, prior to the opening credits, we learn that Lucious has some sort of illness, is a talented record producer, is having some sort of relationship with the lady he works with, and has a crappy assistant named Bunkie (played by Antoine McKay), who Lucious grew up with and considers a brother.

Lucious has a sketchy past. Before hitting it big, he dealt drugs in Philadelphia. He rapped his way to fame, starting with nothing. He tells his Empire company people that he’s upset about artists who started out like him, poor kids in the neighborhood, who now can’t make any money and pull themselves out of poverty in the music business because of illegal downloading. For some reason, he thinks that the Empire company going public and trading on the stock exchange will help stop illegal downloading. (I don’t get it. Explain, someone, please?)

Anyhoo, Lucious has three sons, and announces to them that he’s going to “someday” need one of them to step up and run the business. Later, we find out that Lucious is diagnosed with ALS and has about three years to live.

So here are the sons, vying to run the company:

First, Andre (played by Trai Byers), who’s Lucious 2.0. He’s a handsome, suit-wearing, conformist business person. He has been his dad’s right hand man since grad school and blah blah. He’s really shark-like into the business, but, unlike his father, he’s not “talent.” He basically begs his dad to give him the company, but his dad thinks a celebrity needs to run it. Andre and his wife come up with a plan to have the other two brothers fight it out and destroy each other, so that Lucious will have no choice but to let Andre have the company. I think that’s the plan, anyway.

Then, there’s the middle kid, Jamal (played by Jussie Smollet), who I loved and I bet is a fan-favorite already. He’s super talented in a smooth R&B type of way, like John Legend-ish. He’s really cute, has a great voice, a nice stage presence, but GUESS WHAT?

He’s gay.

Lucious does not like Jamal. In a flashback, Jamal was maybe six, and he came down the stairs into the family room dressed in his mom’s shoes and a scarf, and Lucious lost his shit and picked up the kid and threw him outside into a garbage can! It was horrifying.

Now Jamal has daddy-issues (understandably). He thinks that gay black men can’t be taken seriously as artists and yadda yadda. He lives with a super-cute supportive man named Michael. Michael asks him what he wants, and Jamal doesn’t seem into running the company or being a star. He just wants to do his music without all the hoopla. He certainly does not want to end up like his father (who told him he can “choose” to sleep with women- oy!).

Then there’s Hakeem, the baby (played by Bryshere Gray). Hakeem is a very talented rapper. While Jamal is more conservative in dress and mannerisms, Hakeem is all hip-hopped out. He’s into the women and the scene. He comes to the studio hung over. As you can imagine, Lucious LOVES this one. Thinks he’s star material (although he acknowledges that Hakeem is spoiled).

One sweet part of the show is that Hakeem and Jamal love each other and seem really close. When Hakeem has trouble with some music thing, Jamal fixes it. When Hakeem performs it for Lucious, Lucious loves it. Hakeem tells Lucious that the musical fix was Jamal’s doing, and Lucious blows off Jamal, telling Hakeem that it’s Hakeem’s talent that makes it work. This little exchange motivates Jamal to get into the mix for the company.

The best part of the show though, by far, is Cookie (played by Taraji P. Henson). Picture the hip-hop version of Gemma Teller (of Sons of Anarchy). Part way through the show, she gets released from prison. It seems that she did seventeen years (the boys were little when she went in) for dealing drugs. Her $400,000 in drug money actually started Empire, and now she’s back and wants her piece.

She’s tough, she’s beautiful, she’s sharp, and she’s a mama bear on a mission. She accepts and loves Jamal (albeit, with some snarky comments), who is the only kid who came to visit her in prison. Hakeem has a grudge against her the size of his gold necklace and gives her attitude when she comes to see him. She ends up beating the crap out of him. I know that sounds terrible, but when you watch, you’ll get it. Hakeem’s a bit of punk.

Cookie goes to Lucious and tells her she wants her share of the biz. It’s her drug money that started the company, and she’s not afraid to tell the stock market people that fact, which would hinder his efforts to go public. She wants a $5 million per year salary. He thinks he can get her three. She warns him not to sweep her under the rug. He looks scared, and I don’t blame him. We learn from flashbacks that Cookie has been counseling Lucious on his career since Day One. They seemed to have gotten along really well in the past. He divorced her while she was inside, and didn’t come to visit her. Now Lucious is hooked up with the “Halle Berry” looking co-worker (Cookie’s words, not mine).

Meanwhile, Cookie and Andre team up and come up with a plan for something or other, which I think would end up getting Andre the company (was it that they were supporting Jamal or Hakeem? I lost track somewhere). I know Cookie wants to manage one of the boys, and makes a deal with Lucious that she won’t tell anyone about the start-up drug money, in exchange for rights to manage.

Then, to top things off, for reasons of money and the past and blah blah, Lucious ends up shooting Bunkie in the street!

ALL IN AN HOUR!

Empire is worth a watch if you like drama and soap opera type primetime shows. There’s a lot of music in it too, which of course, you can buy (it’s very Glee-like). Cookie will be a fun character to follow as she railroads Lucious’s plans, and the boys’ competition for the company will cause all kinds of problems, I’m sure. Throughout the season, we’ll see Courtney Love, Naomi Campbell, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Macy Gray.

Empire is definitely DVR-worthy! It’s on Wednesdays at 9pm on Fox. Try to catch an episode and let me know what you think.

(Picture from: http://www.hitfix.com/news/empire-trailer-4-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-new-fox-show)

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