First off, wow, I got that buzzing feeling. As a geek the feeling is familiar. It’s the feeling I get after watching the season finale of “The Walking Dead”, or “Game of Thrones”. I never thought I would get this feeling after watching a show like Empire, but its there, that’s “Oh Shit I can’t wait until next season feeling”.
Lets go step back and and the unlikeliness of it all. Here was this show, a WINTER SEASON show. A show that Fox put in the running to fill in the vacuum of shortening “American Idol” an hour on Wednesdays due to lackluster ratings. Sure it had Lee Daniels behind it, but this would be Daniel’s first foray into television, the show was an experiment at best. Pretty much a black version of “Dynasty”, and HOOD, like really hood. It was definitely not written for a white audience in mind. But now what just ended its first of more likely many seasons was the number one show on television, Fox probably wished they green lighted twice as many episodes, had it start in September and taken the scenic route into May. You can tell that Fox was trying to wring every last ounce of revenue out of it by how many commercial breaks they put it in (I swear content wise the finale was probably like 35 minutes in length).
But what little was there PAID off (WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD). First off, I have to admit I was going to post a video prediction proudly prophesying that Lucious would be killed off during the finale. At the time I was halfway through watching “Sin of the Father” on hulu, and at the time my logic was that they had to kill the King to move the plot forward. I mean, you can’t really blame for thinking that, although Lucious was a royal dick, I thought most of the drama would be within the dynamics between the brothers, with there never being a true villain in the show, just “mini” villains that had to be dealt with in story arch. But after finishing the “Sins” episode and by the end of the first half of the finale I realized how completely wrong I was, Lucious IS the villain of the show, he went from a dying asshole trying (more like stumbling) to make right by his family and his legacy to a living villian, willing to kill even family to get what he wants.
Speaking of killing family, lets all pour one out for Malik Yoba’s character Vernon Turner (although technically he wasn’t a Lyon). I suppose you can’t get any disposable a character as Vernon. He wasn’t a Lynon, dude couldn’t even sing. They needed to some way to get Rhonda back in the show and nothing brings a couple together than 1. having a baby and 2. co-conspiring a murder cover up. I personally like Rhonda, she’s repping all the Becky’s out there and defying the doe eyed innocent “fish out of water” stereotype you usually see with white significant others in black dramas. Although I am curious to see what they do with Jennifer Hudson’s character, a church girl lured into the Lyons den (although for a church girl she when from “music therapy” to “make out therapy” real quick).
Andre is still an ex-factor in my eyes. Beyond his bi-polar disorder, there is not much substance to the character and the finale I think didn’t do much to solve that issue, although I’ll acknowledge the scene with him in the studio with the gun was one of the best scenes in the series. I’m hoping there more for him to do in Season 2 than be the big guy crying all the time.
Hakeem grew on me a lot towards the end of the season, and he did win my “oh shit!” moment when Lucious caught him and Anika together at the Baretti estate (speaking of which, Judd Nelson, you should be kissing Lee Daniels feet for reviving your career, bruh). He went from being a spoiled brat to well, a spoiled brat that loves to bite the hand that feeds him, but its soo great when he does, right? Hopefully the Hakeem / Anika relationship becomes more than the “lets get back at daddy” moment that they are making it to be because we know Hakeem loves older women and honestly, I not a big fan of Naomi Campbell (I feel for any production assistants that caught her wrath during the filming of her scenes). Also bit ups for the fight between Anika and Cookie, I think only Maywether/Pacquiao was more anticipated.
Jamal, man… so much to say about my man Jamal. First off, he got to be in the running for “hardest gay character on TV”, although I still think Omar Little from “The Wire” won that title hands down. If you had to sum up season one, it would probably be called “The rise of Jamal Lyons”. With Lee Daniels being gay, I wonder how much of himself he written into the Jamal character, the disapproving father, the overwhelming talent, the rise of being “the boss”. A lot will be said about Jamal, but I wonder if what will be written will relate to how simple the character is.
Jamal is simply, “a good guy”, the character that always does the right thing. When he finally get’s is father’s approval and because heir to the throne he ask for his brothers’ approvals. “I won’t accept if you guys have a problem with it”, and I believe him. The problem with being the nice guy though in a show like this is that after a while, it gets a bit boring. I hope Daniels, due to some obligation “to the cause” isn’t afraid to get the characters hands dirty. I don’t mean like when he almost threw Baretti off the balcony, because that still felt honorable, I mean let the guy fuck up a bit (like when he screwed over his latin boyfriend midseason, more of that stuff).
Lastly with Jamal, I like to say the actor, Jussie Smollett, DUDE WHERE THE FUCK DID YOU COME FROM??? Such talent!! Kid can act, can sing. And the fact that’s he’s gay in real life too?? What genius of a casting director did Lee Daniels go to find this guy. I read Jussie’s filmology, the biggest thing he’s been in so far was “The Mighty Duck”. Sure, Yazz (Hakeem) is a rapper, but it seems a lot easier these days to turn an MC into an actor than to find an actor with a recording artist caliber singing voice. As a straight male perhaps I probably don’t have of vote in this but GLADD, if you have some equivalent to the NAACP Image award, If Jussie doesn’t get an award for best supporting actor, I don’t know what’s what. And NAACP, if Jussie doesn’t get an Image award for best supporting actor… you know the rest ;)
And Finally their is Cookie.. It’s funny, if your black there is at least one Cookie in your life, maybe it’s your mom’s flamboyant friend, or maybe it IS your Mom. In my case it was my mom’s best friend, although I see a lot of my dear departed mother in Cookie Lyons, which is kind of messed up because I’ve had a solid crush on Taraji P Henson since “Baby Boy”. Cookie is why I watch the show, bar none. It’s funny how every stereotype you hear about black women being loud and abrasive Cookie Lyons just wear on her shoulders like the gaudy jewelry she wears on the show. Big. Sparkling. Beautiful.
Because there is nothing dishonest about Cookie, she’s definitely the most honest character on the show. Surrounded by flawed people, by people hiding their true selves, what does Cookie say? “Be you”. Don’t be someone else. Even with Lucious she goes “I like you better when you was a thug”, because she knows that Lucious lost an important part of himself when he rose to the top. The preeminent problem solver, the “fixer”. I never watched “Scandal” (hey, I’ll get to it eventually) but I’m sure that in that capacity Cookie has a bit in common with Kerry Washington’s character Oliva Pope, but perhaps in a more abstract way all black women share that trait, because when your black and a woman in America, problems drop from the sky like rain. They are forced to deal with them or get swept away in the down pore.
Unfortunately not much of Cookie is seen in the finale, she’s pretty much a bystander to her sons’ plotting, but that’s ok. Because the series is about Cookie, about a person with big dreams who got snatched away and put on stasis for 17 years, only to be brought back into a world where those dreams came true, but twisted without her design. What she does now, especially with big bad Lucious currently in the slammer will be the central focus of the upcoming seasons, and that what I’ll be looking forward to.
Some final thoughts. Like I said earlier, a lot will be written about this show, by TV critics and scholars, and by people like me, jotting their opinions on their blogs because it is a popular show and more specifically, it is a popular black show. Unfortunately because it is a popular black show it will be be analyzed unfairly on how it helped fix some problem or shed some light about some problem in the black community. That’s a lot to put on a show whose in realty, only job is to entertain enough people to get ratings in order to sell ad space to advertisers. We should keep this in mind, for “Empire” is an extremely entertaining show and that’s what is only meant to be. Sure it shines a light on homophobia in the black community, specifically in the hip hop community and that definitely an added bonus, but if you didn’t like gays before the show, saw the show and decided, “you know what, gays are ok because I like Jamal”, maybe your initial feelings and opinions weren’t that strong in foundation in the first place for it to be shattered so effortlessly by an one hour weekly drama.
I am so glad that there is a popular show out there with black faces on it, but I am afraid that if we weigh it down with social significance that it will put it on a pedestal and make it even harder for other black shows to appear, to succeed and yes to fail. For in order to have several good shows with minority casts and writers we have to have dozens to go through the crucible of the television making process with most probably not making the cut, and of those only a select few being something people will watch and obsess over. It is only when the powers that be, and for now those powers are old white men, see the financial rewards on taking risks on shows like this is worth it than anything will improve. I guess what I’m saying is I’m preempting the “what does this show do for the struggle” debate before it starts because it’s not suppose to do anything for the struggle, it’s suppose to entertain. It does that, and while it does it it sneaks in a social truth every now and then, but the entertainment is the important part.