Empire Is Back

24 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Empire Is the Most Important Show on TV.

Empire, the most important show on television, returns for its second season Wednesday night, a world champ about to make another run at the title, surrounded by all the attendant excitement and expectation.

Henson’s nomination because — hello — she’s amazing.) The increasing ratings over the first five episodes of season one last year broke a record that’s at least 23 years old. The set in Chicago, built in a cavernous studio occupying a former steel mill, features new additions like a lighted tunnel leading into the club Leviticus, designed for entrance scenes worthy of a ‘90s rap video. Since debuting last January, Fox’s prime-time soap about a hip-hop dynasty swiftly became a phenomenon, a ratings smash in an age of vanishing ratings, a buzzsaw in an era when network shows struggle to hum, a largely black production in a still largely vanilla TV environment, a careening, plot-devouring, catfight-boasting melodrama grounded in something real, and the creator of the most indelible TV diva in decades: Taraji P. The last time we saw that type of steady increase was in 1992. (Video via Fox / “Empire”) A lot of that has to do with the way co-creator Lee Daniels designed the show. She wastes not a moment peeling it off, stripping down to a feathered and crystal-encrusted Gucci dress that says more about her, and the luster-starved state of fashion itself, than words ever could.

For the bird of paradise that is Cookie Lyon on Fox network’s drama about a hip-hop/R & B record ruling family, that gown was the only clear choice. Super-producers jumped in to contribute music (Ne-Yo, Swizz Beatz), celebrities lined up as guest stars (Chris Rock, Pitbull, Alicia Keys, Lenny Kravitz), and the costumes have gotten fancier (read on for Gabourey Sidibe’s feelings about her new wig). She is, it develops, about to embark on a journey of unfettered opulence rarely seen since the no-holds-barred television era of “Dynasty” in the 1980s. “You’re looking at a woman who was living for 17 years in an orange prison suit,” Ms. On a recent visit to the “Empire” set, we hunkered down near a bar of fake booze in Leviticus to talk with cast members (minus Terrence Howard, unfortunately, who wasn’t present) about what to expect from season 2, premiering Wednesday on Fox. Empire bursts back onto TV seeming more than up to the challenge, immediately settling into its groove as both an operatic piece of entertainment and, also, a form of politics.

She had all that time on her hands to think every day of her life, ‘When I get out, what am I going to wear?’ ” Paolo Nieddu, a costume designer for the show, described Cookie’s gown as “vulgar in the best sense of the word.” Vulgar, that is, by design. “I don’t need to see another leading lady in a Roland Mouret dress.” Mr. The new season begins three months after the events of the finale, in which Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) was arrested for murder, at a huge “#FreeLucious” concert and rally in Central Park.

Nieddu, whose previous costume credits include “Ugly Betty” and the movie version of “Sex and the City,” is operating from a sense of mission, he said. The mask comes off: It’s Cookie. “How much longer are they going to treat us like animals?” she yells to the crowd. “The American correctional system is built on the backs of our brothers, our fathers, our sons. It is a system that must be dismantled piece by piece … Justice for all, not justice for some.” Then she leads the crowd in the chant: “How much longer?” This moment, obviously, unfolds expressly within the context of Ferguson, Eric Garner, police brutality, a racist penitentiary system, and the Black Lives Matter movement, and it works on two levels. It screams, ‘I’m dripping with money and I know how to spend it.’ ” The character has gained plenty of confidence, and worldliness, since the first season of “Empire,” during which Cookie was sheathed in the leopard, tiger and python prints that were her feral signature. “She was a tiger mom, a lioness, waiting to pounce,” said Rita McGhee, who, apart from the pilot, designed the costumes for the show’s first season. “Animal prints were her strength.” Nerves steadier this time around, Cookie dresses with a decidedly upmarket oomph. “She’s letting Lucious know a new dynasty is coming,” Ms.

But Empire is also a cultural object, one whose enormous success pierced television’s largely white status quo. (By the end of last season, Empire was better-rated than the Super Bowl among black households: Networks will ignore this audience at risk to their own bottom lines.) By opening with a scene of protest, Empire is both reflecting the culture and declaring its place in it. But if Empire is a do-gooder—and it is changing the world for the better—it’s a do-gooder that loves a party, preferably a superswank one, with Dom flowing. Empire does not pat itself on the back for being a show about black people so much as roll its eyes, say “bitch, please, of course,” and get down to the business of being deliriously outré, of putting Cookie in a monkey suit.

Henson and the production team was working from a template laid out by the show’s director, Lee Daniels. “The fashion on ‘Empire’ is bombastic,” Mr. From Jimmy Fallon skits and “Saturday Night Live” appearances to Jussie Smollett performing “Empire” hit songs at award shows, it’s easy to see that the show is here to stay.

Among her more eye-catching numbers are the gilt-edged blue patchwork and leather Moschino suit she wears in Episode 1, and, as the season advances, a red leather biker jacket and trousers slung with gold chains. But I hope he comes back to center when the dust settles.” “Hakeem is not fond of his brother Jamal, but he and Cookie are getting along—it’s like Team Cookie-Hakeem now. While Lucious languishes in jail, held without bail thanks to a black, conservative prosecutor keen to make her name on Lucious, Cookie takes to the stage.

But she’s out there calling for justice because she is masterminding a takeover attempt of Lucious’ record label, Empire Entertainment, and wants to impress—check out this name—Mimi Whiteman (Marisa Tomei), a gay corporate raider whose cash Cookie needs. After her performance, Cookie chats up Al Sharpton, André Leon Talley, and Don Lemon, just the first of the season’s many boldfaced names (one of which is Oprah), evidence in itself of Empire’s real-world power. Valerie Steele, the director and chief curator of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, implied as much in “Women’s Wear Daily” last week. Among the most avidly anticipated spring runway collections being shown in Europe this week are standard bearers of over-the topness like Fausto Puglisi, with his violently colorful graphics and hardware-studded biker coats; and Olivier Rousteing, Balmain’s designer, an even more exuberant champion of curve-clutching, gilt-embellished rocker chic. Lucious, ever a merciless manipulator, becomes even more imperious with his sons, withholding and wielding his love like a weapon, in contrast to Cookie’s mother-love, which gets more gentle. (Through the first three episodes, I got the feeling Empire was being strategic with its Cookie deployment, saving more for later.) Jamal finds his hauteur, Hakeem locates his focus, and Andre forsakes his pride, begging for his father’s approval in a sad display of self-abasement that is as plausible as it is pathetic.

We made an effort to make the characters as three-dimensional as possible, to give viewers [a version of] their father, their sister, their uncle, themselves, what they’re going through.” “We definitely have more stuff. In the first episode, Cookie goes to visit Lucious in jail, even though the two are at odds. (She tried to kill him.) She desperately needs a favor and thinks she can count on him. That the Lyons would continue mixing it up, causing each other so much pain and aggravation, is the least rational but most realistic beat of all: They’re family. Now that we’re in on the plan, it’s easier to see the evolution of our style.” Also, I’m a rapper, so I said to the casting director, Claire [Simon], who is really close to Lee Daniels, “Maybe you can talk to him about me doing my music on the show?

Last season, there was that tension on the set with everyone wondering, are people even going to like this soap opera about a black family that’s a musical?

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