TV review: Empire, E4
Fears of a bland planet prove justified with this rap ‘drama’
If a drama about the hip-hop world had been made in the 1980s, it sure as heck wouldn’t have looked, sounded or felt anything like Empire. This, be assured, is not a good thing. You know when an audience is being talked down to when Empire rushes to tell us a terrible truth within about 40 seconds of its commencement, as though without that information we’d have turned over already. Force feeding would be the best way to describe it.
Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) is the head of his family and the boss of Empire Entertainment, once a small record label but now a powerful Motown-esque player. When he gets some bad news about his own mortality, he figures it’s time to start thinking about handing over the reins to one of his three sons.
Sadly, the obvious contender, his eldest, is a suit who lacks any creative spark; the youngest is an unreliable hothead; the middle child is blessed with supreme talent (in that his songs are a bit Justin Timberlake) but, gadzooks, is gay. We know that Lucious has a problem with this on account of the flashback where he sticks his kid into a garbage can after he tottered around in his mummy’s pink high heels.
The Lyon matriarch is Cookie (Taraji P Henson) who has finally served her time for a drug conviction. This can’t be the only US drama ever made with a character being released from prison in episode one seeking ‘what’s rightfully mine’. But, it’s probably the only one where an ex-convict announces their intentions out loud to no one in particular just as the jail gate slams behind them.
The soap-operaness of Empire was much mentioned when the show arrived in the US where, to be fair, it has been hungrily lapped up, ratings improving with each passing episode. If over-the-top histrionics, set-ups and direction are what you need from your TV fix, then this hammy nonsense is for you.
Ultimately though, Empire tells us that a once-radical music genre has ruthlessly been blanded out beyond all recognition. This ‘drama’, with its stream of one-dimensional ‘characters’ is the perfect advert for that sad decline.
Empire starts on E4, Tues 28 Apr, 9pm