Sept. 23 2015 3:13 PM

23 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Empire’ producer Ilene Chaiken promises moments that will make fans rise from their seats.

Before we hop back into the Lyons’ den, it’s worth reviewing the crazy, Shakespearean plot twists that led us to the divided dynasty we’ll encounter in Season 2. “You may think you’ve gotten away with it, but don’t fool yourselves.Empire lives on the tightrope, each episode as likely to feature murder, federal prosecution, or medical drama as it is the backstabbing nature of the music industry and the wicked romance between the Lyons, Lucious (Terrence Howard) and Cookie (Taraji P. After its full-charged ratings build last season, how the audience receives the show in its sophomore season will likely be a central point of interest.

The debut season saw hip-hop-minded patriarch Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) oversee his Empire label’s transition into a publicly traded company, while deciding which of his three sons should take over when he dies. (Early on he is diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.) Meanwhile the label’s place in the musical landscape is never taken into question. Its Season 1 finale brought in 17 million viewers at a time when it seemed the death knell had been rung on broadcast television bringing in such numbers.

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 show snarls and grins with every breath, coiling taut around your fragile attention span to make sure you’re not missing the next word, the next character, the next song, or the next twist in the story.

Empire’s blistering rise, along with genre-defining, highly addictive soaps like Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, comes at the tail end of the rise of the cable prestige dramas — Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos — that punctuated what’s known as the contemporary “golden age of television.” Empire and its kin are pulpier, more daring episode to episode than those shows. Game time, b—–s.” The Lyon family patriarch makes this grave promise from his jail cell after being arrested for the murder of his business associate — and cousin-in-law — Bunkie Williams. 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.

Becky Williams, who works for Lucious Lyon at Empire Entertainment, casts a jaundiced eye on those around her in Wednesday’s sophomore season debut (9pm EDT, Fox). “The storyline is so enticing and it keeps you guessing. Things had been going pretty well for Lucious: He’d managed to launch his company’s historic (and highly-contested) IPO; after preparing for an inevitable death from ALS, he found out that he had a different, more manageable disease called myasthenia gravis; and his star-studded tribute concert, “The Lucious Lyon Sound,” was finally happening.

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. I don’t know what to attribute it to, but what I felt take shape was this incredible audience engagement and this voracious appetite for the show and a great sense of ownership of the audience. 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. She notes another bonus: “Everyone on the show is extremely beautiful or extremely handsome, so there are quite a few things that keep you coming.” This season holds more over-the-top drama for all connected with Empire, the music and entertainment company built by Lucious Lyon and his ex-wife, Cookie (Terrence Howard and Emmy-nominated Taraji P.

Agent Carter (ha) had been trailing Cookie since her release from prison, trying to get information about some of the key players from her and Lucious’s drug-dealing past. Carter even managed to convince Cookie to testify in front of a grand jury, something Cookie was reluctant to do out of a very valid fear for her safety. When Lucious saw Agent Carter, it didn’t take long for him to connect the dots and rather logically assume that Cookie was the one who ratted him out.

A King Lear joke appears in the pilot.) This is a very simple yarn of a squabble over power, and how with great power comes great responsibility, and so on and so forth. While an ALS misdiagnosis is no longer hanging over Lucious’ head, a prosecutor is intent on bringing down the former drug dealer and gets him jailed without bail. 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. 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. Cookie is a caustic mix of love and malice, freed from prison and coming to take what’s hers (the company) after sacrificing her own freedom so the company might get its start.

Andre, the eldest of the Lyon children, got into a fight with his “Uncle Vernon.” Said fight escalated quickly and ended with Dre’s wife, Rhonda, clubbing Vernon over the head with an undoubtedly overpriced candle holder. Becky has a promotion and, with the arrival of new character J-Poppa (Mo McRae of Murder in the First and Sons of Anarchy), a chance for love. “My first soap opera romance,” said Sidibe, 32, who gained fame and an Oscar nomination for her debut project, Precious, the acclaimed 2009 film about an abused, illiterate young woman. 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.

Sidibe, who was a college student planning to be a psychologist when she fell into acting, has found herself helping people in unexpected ways because of her career. But Rhonda, who was thisclose to leaving Dre after he developed a close relationship with his music therapist (mmmkay), reveals that she’s pregnant and the admission changes everything. 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.

Dre recovers pretty quickly from Uncle Vernon’s death; he and Rhonda are at Lucius’s side when he rings the bell at the New York Stock Exchange in celebration of Empire’s IPO. He even offers an explanation for Vernon’s absence: “Maybe he fell off the wagon again, Dad.” It’s in Dre’s best interest to pretend like things are normal since he’s scheming to take control of Empire with his youngest brother, Hakeem, and Cookie.

Tricky happens to have a grandson who spits garbage raps that no one takes seriously and is looking to buy into a record company so that his untalented grandson can get a deal. As Lucious is being escorted out of the arena by the FBI, his assistant Becky informs him that news of his arrest has already been made public, causing Empire stock to plummet. “Everyone’s talking about a hostile takeover,” Becky says, but it’s unclear if it’s that hostile takeover.

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. In a dramatic gift exchange during “Empire’s” season finale, Jamal ended up being handed the golden scepter that represented control over the company his father built. 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. Lucious had been pretty openly grooming Hakeem for the role, but then alienated him by trying to bribe his son’s much-older girlfriend, Camilla (played by Naomi Campbell), into moving away.

I’m surprised how many things I’ve bumped into over the last eight years that scared me to death and that, when I actually came across them, I didn’t even feel it. He also window shops for a record deal outside of Empire, rubbing elbows with Lucious’s arch-nemisis and former manager, Billy Beretti, who is strongly opposed to Empire’s IPO. There are plenty of things in this show that many of us can’t relate to: working with producers, creating music, being an artist, being in jail for trafficking narcotics, killing people, being good at dancing, being business owners, running a company, offering an IPO, being in love with someone who might kill you, etc.

Meanwhile, Jamal — relentlessly bullied by Lucious for being gay — shows his loyalty to the family business by helping his father overcome a case of writer’s block and threatening Beretti to stop all efforts that would halt Empire from going public. But there’s something about how Empire depicts and celebrates American endurance, in its poorest pockets, that transcends all of its drama and resonates with anyone who watches.

Jamal also has some information that his brothers do not: He knows that Lucious killed Bunkie and that Cookie attempted to smother Lucious with a pillow in an act of desperate revenge. And representation is very important to everyone, but especially to girls like me, and people like me, whether it be because of my body, because of my race, because of my skin colour, because of my awkwardness or where I come from. The most important thing to me is that when you do a show like this, you know intuitively whether you’re doing it right, and you just don’t stop until it’s there. In the 2011-’12 season, according to the Ralph Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, nonwhite actors and actresses accounted for just 5.1 percent of the lead roles in network comedies and dramas. Things that are important to my experience and to the experience of being black in America.” So we come in with all of that and just throw it on the table, and we blue sky it.

Sometimes we’ll aim for a moment and circle back and say, “You know what, let’s not do that here because that’s really not what would happen.” It’s happened several times in breaking second-season stories. We broke a story in the room in which Andre, while he was having his bipolar break, which was pretty spectacular, he was pursuing someone we thought was his adversary, and he runs him over with a car.

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