The word ‘empire’ evokes an image of a system larger than life, one that is dated and only seen in to history books. The show “Empire” is equally expansive, but undeniably modern.
The show centers on Lucious Lyons, a man who rose from drug-dealing and poverty to musical stardom and went on to create a successful hip-hop entertainment company.
Just like Lyons, the show is all about hip-hop music. The music is neither a bland accompanying soundtrack nor an annoyance of distracting musical interludes. Instead, it is an artistic element that seems authentic and works well within the context of the show.
The show premiered on the Fox channel, which is well known for its first musical-drama, “Glee.”
Still, “Empire,” even with its ironic and comedic elements, is undoubtedly more serious and mature. Encompassing topics such as racism, homophobia, mental illness, incarceration, child-abuse and even murder, the show manages to keep from becoming overblown with grandeur in a setting that has the main characters in the lap of luxury.
Gripping and uninhibitedly raw, the show does not tiptoe or shy around the less glamorous aspects of humanity. These characters are celebrities in their world, but the show focuses not only on publicity and performance, but personal struggles that these people still face despite their stardom.
There are many onscreen battles, but there is also extensive internal conflict. While Lyons’ uncommon success story is inspiring, and his iron fisted rule as head of a self-made company shows a man who is dedicated to excellence, it is impossible to idolize him. Flashbacks of doctor’s offices and MRI machines lead up to a diagnosis of ALS. Flashbacks of Lyons while he was still a drug dealer reveal an impulsive, abusive and homophobic parent.
It’s hard to pin Lyons into a common character trope, or even to form a solid opinion of him. The show is intentional in its scene structure, the intensity and the variety is cycled enough that no scene seems forced or over the top. Instead of simply moving through scenes and episodes in a linear fashion, flashbacks are strategically placed to create emotional context. Often used simply as a means of explanation without explicit dialogue, the flashbacks appear as memories relevant to the current moment.
As someone who has been an avid consumer of television since infancy, I’ve noticed the scope of options broadening over time. This makes it hard for new shows to create a following.
When a first season manages to pull a large audience across a variety of demographics, and seems to project success for the network, they get renewed for a second season.
“Empire” managed to get nearly ten million viewers for their premiere, and that number has climbed each week with each new episode.
I know that I will be watching as well, to see not only the fate of Lyons’ family and company, but also the fate of the show which gives such a human element to a situation that seems larger than life.