‘Empire’s’ Gabourey Sidibe talks up Becky, ‘the smartest person in the room’

23 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Critic’s Corner: What’s on TV Wednesday.

If it earned only one major Emmy nomination — the one it most deserved, for Taraji P. Empire (9 p.m., Fox) – Season 2 opens three months after Lucious’ arrest, and he’s trying to run Empire Entertainment from inside federal lockup.Fox’s deliriously melodramatic hit show “Empire” returns for a second season Wednesday night, and it’s a shiny, deliberately blingy example of how the trashiest (and often morally bereft) shows can also be the shows that have the most to say. “Empire” does not specifically ask a viewer to bring the PhD-level of cultural and contextual analysis that so many have heaped upon the series since its sensational debut in January.

Henson’s portrayal of Cookie Lyon, the formerly incarcerated wife of presently incarcerated music mogul Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) — it occupied the public conversation and media interest in the way that broadcast-network dramas rarely do now. It was the No. 1 broadcast series, with a hit soundtrack album for related good measure, and demonstrated that a series in which nearly every major character is a person of color can cut across demographics and kill in the ratings. But “Rosewood” is a dull crime procedural, an entirely different kind of show from the serialized, bursting-with-energy “Empire,” which makes their pairing cynical and probably a squandered opportunity for Fox to build off “Empire’s” success. The beauty of “Empire,” built-in from the beginning, and what makes it so widely appealing, is that it is total pulp in a really nice binding: “Dynasty” played as “King Lear.” It’s aggressively melodramatic, but in a way that doesn’t insult the intelligence — it is outlandish, but not ridiculous, and not the sort of series you would need to qualify as a guilty pleasure.

Nature’s Miracle Orphans (8 p.m., UNC-TV) – A Nature special about rescue center caregivers in Australia and Costa Rica who help wild baby orphans, including a koala bear, a tiny wallaby and a three-toed baby sloth battling pneumonia. It’s solidly made to be exactly what it is. “Lear” was specifically on Danny Strong’s mind when he pitched “Empire” to co-creator Lee Daniels. (And the series still borrows titles from the text of Shakespeare plays.) But Cookie and Lucious are less Shakespearean figures than they are Olympian — a wrangling Zeus and Hera who share children and jockey for power and whose arguments manifest as fires and floods and earthquakes in the precincts below. View Archive But to treat “Empire” as merely this decade’s best answer to “Dynasty” is to miss some of its fuller intent as subversive social commentary. At its worst, “Empire” is just more implausible, over-the-top junk TV; at its best, it can make some of the medium’s other attempts at both diversity and “oh-no-she-din’t” soap narratives look as tame as “PBS NewsHour.” Whether you enjoy “Empire” or not, it has to be seen to be believed — or, if you prefer, disbelieved.

Gray) and business-school son Andre (Trai Byers), is also trying to gain control of the label with an infusion of outside cash. (Marisa Tomei guest stars as the outside infuser.) Singing son Jamal (Jussie Smollett), whose homosexuality drove a wedge between them in Season 1, is currently aligned with his father. If you can’t keep track of who’s siding with whom at any moment, who’s in, who’s out, who’s up, who’s down, it hardly matters because it’s going to change by the end of the hour, anyway.

Nashville (10 p.m., ABC) – In the Season 4 premiere, Juliette hits a career high, including singing a duet with Steven Tyler, but her personal life plummets. In the premiere, she is staging a star-studded concert in support of Lucious, while at the same time plotting with Andre, Hakeem, Anika, and others to finalize the hostile takeover of his company. But for all the switchback plotting, the sudden revelations that bring some earlier plot or plotline to naught, the show never feels too obviously manipulative or out of control. In this case, Rosewood is the brains and Detective Annalise Villa (Jaina Lee Ortiz, “The Affair”) is the brawn, chasing down suspects while Rosewood saunters over and uses his powers of deduction to pronounce the guy innocent.

This is in part because of the restrained way it’s shot and acted; things get crazy for the space of a musical number, or a nervous breakdown, but mostly it purrs, even when violence is near. There is good work up and down the cast (the smaller roles do much to set the tone, and to relieve the tension), but it remains Henson’s show in the end, both on the page and in the performing. For all its flash and dazzle, “Empire” could also be described as a show composed of scenes that have Cookie in them and scenes that do not; nevertheless, Howard manages to sustain his menacing presence from behind bars.

Yeah, been there a million times already — “The Mentalist,” “Castle,” “White Collar,” “Elementary,” “Psych” — and not doing that again unless it’s really good, which “Rosewood” is not. Rosewood is aided by his sister, Pippy (Gabrielle Dennis, “The Game”), and her fiancee, Tara (Anna Konkle, “Betas”), who help him solve a case regarding the death of Rosewood’s mother’s former student in tonight’s series premiere. This season’s first episode is rife with cameos, mirroring the show’s main thrust: Everyone wants a piece of “Empire,” both in real celebrity life and across the blurred lines of fiction.

Counter to her best interests, the opportunistic Cookie is campaigning for Lucious’s release, staging a massive Central Park concert and rally (hashtag: #FreeLucious), where, in short order, she deals with the Rev. Al Sharpton (who says he can’t officially be seen helping Lucious beat the rap), Vogue magazine’s Andre Leon Talley (who throws a little shade at Cookie’s outfit, “last season’s” Gucci), and CNN’s Don Lemon, who, well, the less said the better.

Whatever else happens around her, however much the action wanders over to Lucious or to her now-competitive, now-cooperative sons, everything is most interesting as it relates to Cookie, because Henson makes her so vivid, so funny, so formidable, and so touching, and it’s a delight to watch her work. That quest to crown a new king at Lyon’s Empire Music gave the show a goal to drive toward, something that’s lacking through the first three episodes of season two now that Lucious’ condition turned out to be a misdiagnosis. To portray her ex-husband’s arrest as just one more shameful example of the nation’s black incarceration rate, Cookie dons a gorilla costume and has herself lowered to the concert stage in a cage, even though, as Hakeem points out to his mother, Lucious happens to be guilty of the murder with which he’s charged. In a matter of minutes, “Empire” rightfully reclaims its role as an au-courant launching pad for cultural analysis, from Black Twitter on up to the loftiest tenure track. The only balm to this acrimony is “Empire’s” obligation to deliver the beat, with musical numbers (produced by Timbaland, Ne-Yo and an array of other talent) that offer a sort of “Glee”-like respite to the snitchin’ and slappin’.

But tonight’s reintroduction to the “Empire” world gets off to an entertaining start as the family stages a #FreeLucious concert and cynically, because they know he’s guilty of murder, try to frame his incarceration through a #BlackLivesMatter prism. Without the music and gloriously luxe atmosphere, this would all get pretty old, pretty quick. “Empire’s” one and only problem remains the ethical hollowness of its characters — even the “good” ones are prone to cruelty.

The first episode, written by series executive producers Danny Strong and Ilene Chaiken, gets the show’s tone right in subtle ways that the two subsequent episodes miss.

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