On the eve of “Empire’s” return, the world waits with baited breath for the premiere of season two, critics are asking if we could we be expecting too much? After a breakout season on FOX and unheard of ratings for an African American cast, Lee Daniels and cast have run full speed ahead with hype around the premiere of season two.
With a cameo list that includes Kelly Rowland, Alicia Keyes, Marisa Tomei, Lenny Kravitz, Common, Adam Rodriguez and even the queen of all things television Oprah— it’s hard to imagine how a well-written storyline can accommodate all that star power. In addition to the weighted cameo list; Daniels added Ne-Yo and super producer Timbaland to oversee the musical direction in hopes of dominating the Billboard charts along with the Nielsen ratings like season one.
With the all the money and hype focusing on the added superstar power, it begs the question; Will the writing equal the hype? Season one provided viewers with a glimpse into the salacious music industry and offered the typical murder, sex, lies and videotape needed to ensure ratings in today’s climate, but I’m not certain if it lived up to its hype in relation to character development and a solid storyline. With powerful actors like Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard juxtaposed against unexpected crime and forbidden sexual liaisons, it’s easy to get caught up in the shock and awe and to forget some things just don’t add up. Add to that, Daniels’ very obvious message of sexual discrimination and the first season was shockingly successful.
Many of the storylines in season one overlapped and were phased out unceremoniously in an attempt to introduce another scene-stealing plot. In season one alone a main character killed his confidant, overcame a deadly disease, created a rift between his three sons, one of whom ended up sleeping with his wife, his ex-wife returned from prison, slept with him and his No. 1 bodyguard, demanded half of his empire while his eldest son suffered a mental breakdown and turned against him. If you haven’t taken a breath, add in the drive-by shootings, awkward sex scenes (including a White girl performing fellatio while wearing a bib), and a father putting a his elementary school-aged son into a trash can during a flashback — there’s a lot to digest.
I’m all for engaging storylines and I’m a huge fan of Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard and even Lee Daniels for that matter, but I’m not sure that so much focus should have been on adding even more hype to the show. There were quite a few celebrity cameos on the first season and most of them added shock but not much value.
Watching the Emmys this past weekend ,what stood out to me was that the shows that won big were the ones with great writing. I’ll refrain from mentioning any other shows that have been compared to “Empire” because I don’t believe in pitting one against the other, but still the thing that shines about some of “Empire’s” perceived competition is the great writing. The kind of writing that makes you feel as though you know the characters and are caught in their internal struggles, etc. That’s what makes for great television and that’s what guarantees your audience remains after each murder or sex scene. Quite honestly, that’s the difference between great television and reality TV.
Other than those reservations, I am rooting for “Empire,” but with all the focus on the bells and whistles, I’ll be pleasantly surprised if viewers get 18 great episodes complete with character development and a solid storyline. If not, at least Black Hollywood as a collective received work over the last year and we’ll get to see Oprah on a network besides OWN.