Plus, just for blerdy bona fides, I had to show at least some passing interest in another primetime network TV show with black faces heading the cast. Especially if that show doesn’t have Shonda Rhimes involved, as her stuff is ratings gold and wouldn’t need my help.
Mind you, I don’t really watch soap operas. And, for the most part, neither does America, as the genre keeps losing shows year after year. But I have seen years’ worth of The Young and the Restless thanks to my parents. If I go to my grandmother’s house on a weekday afternoon, I’ll wind up in a vortex of Y&R, The Bold and the Beautiful, and The Days of Our Lives.
And, like Erica Kane and Alexis Carrington Colby, Empire made its best character a hard-as-nails queen bitch covered in gems and luxuriant hair, sporting heels as sharp as her tongue. All hail Cookie Lyon, and Taraji P. Henson has never been better. (Also, the D.C.-area native sounds far more Philadelphian than Howard.) From her first scene on, Cookie is a perpetual quote machine and personifies the phrase “don’t make me get ethnic on you.”
Empire follows in the soap opera tradition for sure. All the main characters with their own personal dramas, and the sparks flying hot and fast when they intersect.
|Yup, totally not a soap opera-like display of abs. So. Many. Abs.|
If you can spend a large amount of discourse on a show with the phrase, “Did you see what so-and-so said to such-and-such but can’t say this-and-that?” then you’re watching a soap opera!
Oh, and tons of soap opera standards: catty rivalries, lovers torn apart, sex betrayals and secrets, even bully-induced murder, and the old “we used to be friends” catharsis.
|The most sexually tense we’re-just-friends beer you’ll ever drink.|
Battlestar Galactica spent tons of time on the Starbuck-Apollo romance, and the fate of humanity hinged on the love affair of a horny scientist and an android. Not to mention about six other romance plots driving the action of the show in the domestic setting of a large spaceship.
In a hip-hop landscape with Frank Ocean and Kid Cudi, a queer or queer-friendly male rapper in the mainstream is here. Empire, penned by the out Lee Daniels, even plays with the irony of the girls-girls-girls hedonist Hakeem (Bryshere “Yazz” Gray), draped in jewelry, fanciful haircuts and lip gloss, looking queened out next to his gay brother, Jamal (Jussie Smollett).
There’s a realness to the flashback of Lucious putting a toddler-aged Jamal in a trash can after he dressed in his mother’s shoes and jewelry. Read enough stories about gay people abused, disowned and mistreated by their parents, and you know how real it is. Daniels himself said it’s based on something that happened to him.
The show hasn’t spent enough time with Andre and Rhonda to get beyond the stereotypes (including lots of ridiculous sex stuff so far), but a scene where Andre makes up an alibi for Lucious’ whereabouts at the time of an associate’s murder, paired with a flashback of child Andre hiding his father’s gun when police raid their apartment, shows promise and needed depth.
But hey, the show is just getting started. Four episodes in, and there’s already so much to sink into.
Guess I’ll be watching next week! On! Empire!