tue 28/01/2020

Empire, E4 | reviews, news & interviews

Empire, E4

Empire, E4

'King Lear' meets 'Dynasty' in lurid hip hop drama

Terrence Howard as Lucious Lyon, worried about the future of his hip hop conglomerate

What Nashville did for country music, Empire may very well be about to do for the lurid world of hip hop. If not more so. Created by Lee Daniels (director of Precious) and written by Danny Hunger Games Strong, it's about ailing music mogul Lucious Lyon and how he must decide which of his three sons to hand over his Empire Entertainment conglomerate to.

It's a potentially powerful setup, even if it is basically King Lear with beats and sons instead of daughters. In the lead role of Lucious, a worried-looking Terrence Howard effectively conveys an aura of disillusion and world-weariness, as he fears that his efforts to transform himself from former gangsta to mainstream business tycoon may be squandered by his offspring. In this debut episode, his best bet initially seemed to be to leave it all to Andre, who has the suit-and-tie schtick down and seems geared for the boardroom. Still, as Andre cautions, "corporate America may not be ready for hip hop, dad."

Cookie has done jail time for drug trafficking and now she wants payback

However, gnawing doubts set in as we learned that Andre is suffering from a pronounced bipolar disorder, and when he stops taking his meds he starts talking about himself in the third person. His bossy blonde wife Rhonda is having her work cut out to keep him under control, especially when he starts bigging himself up in his sleep.

So how about Jamal? Well he's a sensitive kid and a gifted musican, but he happens to be gay, which is a major embarrassment in the macho, homophobic gangbanger world. Then we have Hakeem, the imbecile of the litter. Bratty, mouthy and altogether dumber than a row of slot machines, Hakeem does stuff like peeing on the floor in expensive restaurants, then berating disgusted white diners for ... uh... being disgusted. Strong's screenplay doesn't shy away from the laborious and unsubtle set-piece, but this one was quite fun. "All you white people that voted for the first black President to make you feel good about not being racist, the joke's on y'all because Barack Obama ain't nothin' but a sell-out," ranted Hakeem.

Cut, hilariously, to Lucious on the phone, trying to assuage the injured pride of the President. "Come on Barack, y'know you don't have to use that kind of language..." Then the Pres hung up.

Poor Lucious just kept lurching from crisis to disaster. When he did a TV interview with network hotshot Kelly McGann, and tried to explain why one of his artists, Kidd Fo-Fo, is spitting so much violence and hate, she pinned him to the floor by reminding him his own records used to say all that stuff too.

Meanwhile his ex-wife, Cookie (Taraji P Henson, of Person of Interest fame, pictured above), has returned to torment him. She's done jail time for the drug trafficking that financed Lucious as he built up Empire back in the day, and she wants payback. And she's contemptuous of her ex's straight-world pretensions. "I liked you better when you was a thug," she spat at Lucious. If they can sustain this level of perpetual hysteria and confrontation, this is going to be unmissable emergency-TV.

'Come on Barack, y'know you don't have to use that kind of language...' Then the Pres hung up


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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