‘Empire’ Draws 16 Million Viewers for Season 2 Premiere

24 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Empire’ Season 2 premiere recap: #FreeLucious.

UPDATE: In rush nationals ordered by Fox, “Empire” was revised up to a 6.7 in adults 18-49 for its second-season premiere. Spoiler alert: This blog details events in the second season of Empire, which airs at 9pm 23 September on Fox in the US; and goes out on 6 October on E4 in the UK Lee Daniels’ Empire, the Dynasty-esque, Shakespearean melodrama centered around patriarch and music mogul Lucious Lyon, his three sons and (of course) his wife Cookie, is back. Henson), and comedian Chris Rock as the long-feared drug kingpin Frank Gathers who ends up in prison alongside Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) – and wants Cookie punished for snitching on him all those years ago.

The forensic procedural starring Morris Chestnut managed to self-start and hold its own to tie the return of Survivor in the hour — that’s despite Rosewood drawing some of the harshest reviews of the new fall crop, averaging only 37 out of 100 on Metacritic. Empire seems to prize artistry, while Lucious is considered a trailblazer in music; not even Cookie Lyon (Taraji P Henson), his ex-wife who feuds with him behind the scenes, can deny his claim that he “took the street mainstream and made the mainstream street”. The network dominated the opening Wednesday of the season overall, with its “Rosewood,” the only series premiere on the night, benefiting from pre-“Empire” tune-in to deliver solid scores.

When we last saw the Lyons in a two-hour season finale, they were a grand mosaic of hot messes – dealing in murder, betrayal and plotting – which ended with Lucious’s arrest and middle son Jamal in control of the company. ABC’s comedy block returned strong, with “The Middle” and “The Goldbergs” on par with last year and “Modern Family” and “Black-ish” a hearty second to “Empire” in the 9 o’clock hour. Launched out of American Idol, the hip-hop drama starring Terrence Howard as a music mogul was a success out of the gate with 9.8 million viewers and a 3.7 rating.

Its first-season soundtrack, released back in March, met generally positive reviews and beat Madonna’s Rebel Heart for the top spot on the Billboard 200. (“There are enough quality songs that stand alone to potentially draw new fans,” Patrick Ryan wrote for USA Today.) When we met blues rocker Elle Dallas (Courtney Love) during season one, she asks her label boss Lucious to pair her up with Timbaland in order to get her career back on track. That line feels like a wink to Timbaland being the show’s actual executive music producer, whose past credits include Aaliyah, Missy Elliott and Jay Z. Hip-hop producer Swizz Beats, who is on the show’s music production team, makes the first of several celebrity cameos, setting the tone by asking: “Did you know there’re 1.68 million black men that are being held in mass incarceration in America’s prison system today? We’ll miss seeing Rock on screen, but it looks like Tomei is here to stay – and we’re still waiting for our invite to her weekly viewing party with creator Lee Daniels, Mariah Carey, Kathy Najimy, Whoopi Goldberg and Raven-Symoné.

Lucious is still in jail, but pulling the puppet strings at his record label, where he made Jamal (Jussie Smollett) his successor after making peace with his homosexuality. Right now.” Backstage, rising rapper Hakeem Lyon is conflicted about performing at a concert in support of his incarcerated and “guilty” father, who is in federal jail facing murder charges for the death of Bunkie Williams, his longtime bodyguard and Cookie’s cousin. “We should be performing for the brother and sisters that are innocent,” says Hakeem, the youngest Lyon, freshly denied what he was groomed to believe his birthright: becoming head of Empire. Its 9 p.m. episode on finale night in March averaged a 6.9/21 in 18-49 and 17.62 million total viewers (and its two-hour finale night average of 6.5 matched last night’s premiere).

Many reviewers have compared two of Empire’s best-known songs to Timbaland’s past work: Good Enough, sung by Jamal Lyon (AKA Jussie Smollett, an actual R&B artist), recalls Justin Timberlake’s What Goes Around … Comes Around; and No Apologies, featuring Jamal and younger brother Hakeem Lyon (Bryshere Y Gray, an actual rapper), sounds like Jay Z’s Timberlake-featuring Holy Grail. Hakeem is already wary of Cookie’s plan to score investor Mimi Whiteman (Marisa Tomei) and a chunk of her millions to recapture Empire from Jamal, who is now proxy for Lucious. Compared with last season’s premiere in January, “Empire” on Wednesday was up by 71% in 18-49 (6.5 vs. 3.8) and by 62% in total viewers (16.0 million vs. 9.9 million). Things get interesting when the universe of Empire bleeds together with reality: quick cuts between the crowd, a caged gorilla and police in riot gear.

Also Wednesday: NBC’s The Myseries of Laura (6.9 million, 1.2 in the demo) returned down 40 percent for its second season (the biggest mystery is why this was renewed); Law & Order: SVU (8.2 million, 1.7) returned lower. André Leon Talley was, true to style, perfect at throwing shade with a “Legally Blonde”-esque, foot stomping Enrique throwback to Cookie’s, “…last season Gucci dress.” Al Sharpton and Don Lemmon both make appearances, but are quickly dismissed by Cookie with eye rolls and snark. Instead he uses music as therapy, and to see him channel his frustrations about his father being unsupportive (Good Enough), manipulative (Keep Your Money) and controlling (No Apologies) adds heft to the show. And then there was Chris Rock, playing the character of Frank Gathers, the man Cookie snitched on thanks to the long arm of agent Harlow Carter, now in Shawshank with Lucious. It is a system that must be disassembled piece by piece if we are going to live up to those words that we recite with our hands on our hearts: Justice for all.

Slowly viewers became invested in Jamal, and therefore Jussie Smollett’s artistic journey with its rebellious streak. “[H]e might become a star with hand-selected tracks that fit a narrative arc, but those likely come closer to capturing his artistry than any classic cover could,” Billboard’s Jason Lipshutz wrote. Daniels tethers his audience with this conspiratorial wink, bridging audiences with real-life personalties, a kind of doubling that makes the show as relevant as it is entertaining.

But facing off against Empire, Modern Family (9.3 million, 3.1) was down 18 percent and Black-ish (7.3 million, 2.4) was down 27 percent from their premieres last fall. Conqueror, originally written for featured vocalist Estelle, is the biggest giveaway that Empire airs on Fox – as it sounds like an American Idol winner’s song. Cookie keeps it moving until they are stopped by Lemon and Porsha quips: “I’m not feeling what you did out in Peterson …” The fourth wall breaks, perhaps inviting Black Twitter to reminisce over its widespread public criticism (and jokes) targeted at CNN’s coverage of the protests in Ferguson.

Season 2’s No Doubt About It, penned by new Empire producer Ne-Yo and featuring Pitbull, feels like an even bigger attempt at mimicking the mainstream rather than leading it. The 2.4 for “Black-ish” matches the show’s highest rating to date opposite an episode of “Empire.” At NBC, “The Mysteries of Laura” (1.2/4 in 18-49, 6.9 million viewers overall) was down 0.3 from its year-ago timeslot premiere but nabbed its top rating since Feb. 25.

Anyone who has watched this show knows that no matter what wars are started and what internal family drama is brewing, the Lyon family always circles the wagons when threatened from the outside. Cookie’s cousin, Jamel, asks Lucious for protection when word gets out that Frank Gathers (played by Chris Rock), the drug kingpin who employed both Lucious and Cookie, and whom Cookie served time for, would be joining him behind bars. After hearing Lucious tell Cookie, “It’s crazy how I can love your ass and hate you at the same moment”, you know it’s done — Chris is dead. Gathers has a vendetta against Lucious—Cookie is the one who sold him out—and orders his goons to kill him: “Make it fast and make it quiet.” But Lucious is always a step ahead and turns the tables on Gathers. Jay Z even inspired parts of Lucious’s “American Dream story”, as a former drug dealer who then learns to survive the music industry by any means necessary.

The only emcee regularly featured is youngest Lyon son Hakeem, who raps mostly about dumb fun (Drip Drop) or out of childish spite (Can’t Truss ’Em) under Lucious’s guidance. It’s a hard sell for Rock, who looks like he’s about to burst into a smile at any moment, but he trudges off, stone-faced, to track down Jamal and try to find out if there’s any dirt on Cookie. Last night’s 1.2 rating/6 share for “Tonight,” whose guests included James Spader, matched the show’s best score on a Wednesday in six months and nearly matched the combined scores of CBS’ “Late Show With Stephen Colbert” (0.8/4) and ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” (0.5/2). The episode premieres with quite a statement: the #FreeLucious concert where Cookie descends to the stage dressed as a gorilla in a cage and delivers that big monologue, “How much longer?” Last year you talked about issues that were on your agenda to tackle in the first season. You’re So Beautiful, Lucious’s classical guitar-featuring ballad for Cookie, gets remade twice, the first time into the piano-soul song where Jamal changes the lyrics to publicly come out.

Later, Andre wakes up in a cold sweat after a nightmare where he and his wife, Rhonda, are knee deep in a grave made for attorney and family confidant Vernon. The rest of the show was the usual power plays, money tossin’, brother-on-brother hate crimes, spliced with cunning, Italian murder-mystery plot lines, seemingly pulled straight from a biography of Marie Medici. In true Lyon style, it’s really to woo Mimi Whiteman into investing her kajillions of USD into Empire Entertainment so Cookie can rule as Queen Bee (more on that later). But Hakeem can’t contain his glee and announces that they – Cookie, Andre, Rhonda and Hakeem – with the help of the “investor” have seized a controlling interest that would oust Jamal as president. Jamal reveals his knowledge of the identity of the investor and Mimi spins around in her chair, Dr Evil style, revealing her partnership with Lucious, the incarcerated back-stabber supreme.

And how the hell did she manage to strip out of a sweaty, gorilla suit, with hair and makeup on fleek, wearing a Gucci dress (even if it was last season). Lucious seemingly throws Cookie under the bus, yet sitting across from Gathers over a chess board Lucious reveals that Frank’s beef with Cookie is his, and Frank orders his henchmen to kill Lucious only to discover that Lucious bought their loyalty. But Viola Davis gave that amazing speech about how opportunity is needed for equality to happen, and you must feel proud to be part of a show that’s giving those opportunities. The concert had heavy and direct political overtones, references to the Ferguson riots and a speech delivered by Cookie on African-American incarcerations, justice, power and equality. #FreeLucious was trending, the crowd was chanting “How much longer,” and it was all a clever two-for-one PR punch to free Lucious from jail and highlight the long struggles of the African-American community in America. Cookie slaps him, but Jamal only responds: “You done now, lady?” Mother now estranged from her favorite child, Jamal closes the door, weeps, then walks away.

Taraji said this on Ellen yesterday morning, when she talked about how, in 2015, it’s time that we are done with the phrase “the first African-American to do…” I think she’s absolutely right. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Atlantic cover story, a real life accounting on mass incarceration and the harm it does to black families, is a great start for the uninformed.

She’s dolled up as if someone raided the former set of “Ugly Betty,” grabbed all of America Ferrera’s clothes and ran arms-swinging down the street to “Empire.” While a marked step-up from last season, she was fluctuating between chic and 1920s architecture stripes. Jamal’s estrangement from Cookie is heartbreaking, it’s my favorite alliance, but it’s surely only a matter of time before Lucious will betray him. Sadly, Jamal tossed him aside in Season 1 like a soggy burrito, even though Dora was in love before the fame and power (“The First Wives Club,” anyone?). For those LGBTQ kids out there, it would have been a far better example to show Jamal make time in his schedule for this event rather than simply throw money at them.

And then when all of a sudden we started getting nominated for various critics’ awards I thought, “Oh I guess we are an awards season contender.” So I’m bummed to say that I got suckered into thinking we were. Cookie throws an opulent party for rich white girl, stocked with music, booze and, obviously, barely-clad young, but not illegally young, ladies for said rich white girl. Nun-attired Anika declines until Cookie feeds her to the Lyons (see what I did there?) and we watch demure, sweater vested Anika break into a twerk in her tight-white skirt.

Sadly, all that twerking didn’t work as Cookie, confident in obtaining rich white girl’s money, finds out unexpectedly that a deal was made that did not include her, but keeps Jamal in power, backed by Lucious and Mimi’s money. He’s ascending the Empire throne and becoming more powerful, but he’s also becoming a gay public figure, which is something he seems to be a little bit hesitant about.

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