When it was originally on: 2015-2020
Original network: Fox
Where you can stream it now: Hulu
Had I seen it before: I’ve seen one episode from a later season because a cousin’s girlfriend was in it. I was not able to make sense of the plot though, so it barely counts really.
What IMDb says: A hip-hop mogul must choose a successor among his three sons who are battling for control over his multi-million dollar company, while his ex-wife schemes to reclaim what is hers.
Why I picked it: I remember hearing a LOT about Empire in its first season. Almost every year has one or two new shows that seem to take the world by storm and at the time Empire was one of them. So it’s a little bit odd to me that it seems to have lost steam since then. Part of that might have been the offscreen controversy concerning Jussie Smollet, but even before that it seems like people weren’t talking about Empire the same way.
The pilots for such shows are always intriguing to me. Can you see why there might not have been enough fuel in the tank for more than a season or two? Or was the pilot great but the show made poor choices later? Maybe it has nothing to do with the show itself, but just changes in tv trends, what night of the week it aired, or other newer shows that burst on the scene and distracted people. What happened with Empire? We shall see!
What I liked: This one does a really great job of not only defining each character of this family, but also the dynamics between each one. There’s two parents and three brothers, and one of the things I loved is that each brother gets a one-on-one scene with each parent, plus the two brothers who have significant others each get some one-on-one time with those partners, plus the brothers get chances to interact with each other without the parents around.
I had never realized this until I saw a pilot do it differently, but Empire taught me how a LOT of pilots, especially those that are putting an equal amount of energy into developing each member of a family of five rely a lot on big group scenes. Everyone sitting around the dinner table; everyone riding in a car together. And it makes sense because time is precious in a pilot and this is an efficient way of showcasing a variety of personalities.
But what I love about the Empire pilot is that we’re not just seeing how each of these strong personalities has different ambitions and different means of chasing after them. We’re also getting a sense for how different people have different relationships with the other players in the game. We understand why everyone’s forming the different alliances they are and we have the foundation we need to see why allegiances might change in the future. Lucious, Cookie, Jamal, Hakeem, and Andre are ALL so different in interesting separately, and they only get more interesting when we get to see how they’re different around different people.
I also love how this one did a good job of finding ways to surprise me just when I thought I was figuring out who these characters were and what the show would be about. There’s a pretty powerful “aw snap!” moment in this that I don’t want to spoil, but damn do I love a good “aw snap!” moment. It’s something that I still understand, yet instantly gives one character a whole other stack of layers I didn’t know were there.
What I didn’t like: Some of the dialogue was a little on-the-nose for me. For example, Jamal saying “He’d never pick me anyway. Too much homophobia in the black community.” I can’t help but think that the scene of Jamal and Lucious together would’ve been so much more powerful if Jamal hadn’t straight up told us what was going to happen in this scene before it happened. Let us learn about Lucious’s homophobia from Lucious, not Jamal. Let us see him be an asshole to his son right when we were starting to respect him. The power of these moments is diluted when we’re given an advance warning of what’s going to happen.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Yes! A whole family of interesting characters trying to balance their own egos with what’s best for the business? Different family members forming alliances with each other to take over? It’s like Succession but with fun musical numbers and I can definitely see what all the hype is about.