Klavan On The Culture

Can't Stop Watching "Empire"


Barack Obama’s history of the Crusades, Brian Williams’ war stories and the CBS Evening News are all well and good, but if you want REALLY gripping fiction, try the new Fox TV series Empire. I won’t tell you it’s Shakespeare — and I hate the phrase “guilty pleasure” (it’s not like I’ve got someone chained up in the basement!) — but let’s just call it an addictive entertainment.

How addictive? Consider this. I don’t really do binge watching. No time. I set this show on my DVR and it collected six episodes before I even had a chance to look at it. Since I didn’t seem to be interested, I decided to watch ten minutes of the pilot to get the feel of it and delete the rest. I ended up watching three episodes in a row — it was past midnight when I was done. Another day or two and there were none left. Watching this thing is like eating potato chips salted with crack cocaine.

It’s the story of Lucious Lyon — played by Terrence Howard — who parlayed a hip-hop recording career into a music empire. Lucious discovers he has ALS with only three years to live so he sets his three sons against each other to see who can take over the business. There’s Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray), the wannabe gangstah one; Andre (Trai Byers), the buttoned-down bi-polar one; and Jamal (Jussie Smollett), the high-minded gay one. Complicating the game is Lucious’s ex-wife, the boys’ mother, Cookie (Taraji P. Henson), who has just been sprung from prison and wants her cut of the business too.

So yeah, it’s Dallas with music and just about as much fun as it’s possible to have watching TV. The acting’s great (Howard has one of the best speaking voices in the business), the girls are beautiful (newcomers Grace Gealey and Serayah could cause a man to spontaneously combust), and the music is softened just enough to make it enjoyable even to an old Bach and Bing fan like myself — which, hey, I appreciate!

You can pick on the show for silliness at times. There are one too many scenes where Cookie sashays uninvited into a meal or meeting to disrupt things with her over-the-top street smarts. But there’s never a dull moment and, frankly, watching this kind of talent go all out to amuse the folks at home is a pleasure in and of itself. If you have a chance to catch this, I’d love to know what you think. Myself, I can’t stop, won’t stop, watching.