Wednesday, March 11, 2015

My Review of Empire's 1x01: "Pilot"

Written by Lee Daniels And Danny Strong
Directed by Lee Daniels

Jamal: "So what are you gonna do now?"
Cookie: "I'm here to get what's mine."

The biggest new US drama and while it's taken me two months to catch, I finally get why people are falling over themselves with this show. Musical shows aren't exactly a rarity in recent times. Glee might be on the way out but we've had Smash, Nashville nicely ticks along and even HBO are doing a show called Virtuoso but with Empire, FOX managed to come up with a mammoth here.

The pilot managed to set up everything nicely as we found out that record company owner Lucious Lyons has ALS and only three years to live and this episode heavily focused on the return of his formerly imprisoned ex-wife Cookie and grooming his sons to take over the company when he dies.

Before I talk about the sons - let's talk about Lucious, shall we? Terrence Howard is strong in the role but Lucious is a bit of a bastard, isn't he? He callously rejects Jamal's sexuality repeatedly throughout the opening episode, undermines older son, Andre while being strict with the somewhat spoiled Hakeem. His best scenes however are with former wife, Cookie.

Taraji P. Henson is definitely the star of the show as the newly released from prison Cookie. I liked that she went in there all guns blazing to claim a hold of the company she helped set up with Lucious and her support of Jamal (minus the sissy comment) certainly endeared her to me throughout the episode. Her determination to make Jamal a star with Lucious backing Hakeem should make for interesting television over the next few episodes.

As for the sons themselves - I think the opening episode did an excellent job in making me like all three of them. Andre is certainly a bit of a schemer (his wife, Rhonda even more so) but as the businessman of the three, I think his fears about Lucious preferring an artist taking over Empire Entertainment are justified enough. Though his plan to play off his brothers against each other didn't seem to pan out though.

Out of the three - Jamal definitely emerges as the favourite with Jussie Smollett being brilliant in the role. His own self esteem issues over his sexuality is something I hope he moves on from as the show progresses especially now that he has Cookie in his corner and a crowd of people generally receptive to his music. And that's not even mentioning the fact that both him and younger sibling Hakeem actually get along with each other too.

As for Hakeem - yeah, he's spoiled, something of a hedonist and a ladies man but aside from the one scene where he was awful to Cookie (and came a cropper for it), I actually found him sympathetic enough. Not to mention that musically both him and Jamal seemed to compliment each other pretty well throughout the episode.

As for the rest of the episode - we met Lucious's current girlfriend, Anika who seemed okay, uncle Vernon, the rather sassy Becky and Jamal's sweet boyfriend, Michael but at the same time when we weren't getting flashbacks to Cookie and Lucious's early days of setting up their business and family disputes we also had things nearly fall to pieces when a disgruntled right man of Lucious attempted a little blackmail. Needless to say that one didn't end particularly well for the bloke in question.

Also in "Empire"

Cookie was in prison for seventeen years for drug dealing. She was meant to serve longer but got let out on good behaviour.

Lucious (to singer): "I need you to sing like you are going to die tomorrow. Like this is the last song you will ever sing, you hear me?"

Lucious mentioned that Miss Dotty got shot. Assuming we didn't see her in the flashbacks (did we?), I imagine we'll see/learn more of her in later episodes.

Jamal (re Lucious): "He'd never pick me anyway."
Michael: "Why?"
Jamal: "Too much homophobia in the black community."
Michael: "It's 2015, nobody cares."

Hakeem: "You want a medal, bitch?"
Cookie: "What I want is some respect!"

While Lucious was revealed to have ALS in this episode, it was also revealed that Andre has bipolar as well.

Andre (to Cookie): "You really love me, ma? Okay, here's what we gotta do."

Cookie (to Lucious): "Don't 'baby' me you two faced bastard. I've been living like a dog for seventeen years and now I want what's mine. I want Jamal."

Standout music: This is going to be interesting to do each week but the ones that stood out here were Jamal's "Good Enough", Jamal/Hakeem's "Live For The Moment" and the unnamed singer's "What Is Love?"

Lucious (re Jamal): "You really aren't ashamed of him?"
Cookie: "No!"

Chronology: The show premiered in January 2015, so let's say that for now.

Now this was an impressive pilot episode. Empire has everything for a winning format - excellent writing from creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, a powerhouse cast, excellent music (courtesy of Timbaland) and enough superb soapy twists and turns to certainly keep things moving at a strong pace as well. I can definitely see myself sticking with this show.

Rating: 8 out of 10

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