Reviews

Empire (2015) TV Pilot Review

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The show centres around Lucious Lyon, CEO of Empire Entertainment, who with a recent diagnosis of ALS realises the need to pick the new leader of his company. Battling for the role are his 3 sons who each have strengths and weaknesses. The matter is further complicated by his ex wife being released from prison and trying to claim her place in the company. Warning there are spoilers ahead.

Empire certainly made a strong impression in its pilot. Giving us a gripping plot and highly emotional drama it was definitely proved it was worth the wait. However what makes Empire truly outstanding is the characters and their relationships with each other. Often in pilots it can feel that certain characters are underused but in Empire each actor was given their time to shine. Props to the writers for being able to pull that rare feat off. Of course, it does help when you have a very talented group of actors on your show.

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Terrence Howard plays patriarch of the family, Lucious Lyon. Howard puts in a solid performance, as you’d expect, really capturing all the elements of the character. Lucious is interesting in that even after all his success there is still that shady aspect to him, someone who is willing to break the law to get what he wants. The character isn’t particularly likeable, his relationship with his son Jamal being the central reason. However I’m sure there is going to be lots of backstory to explain why he is the way he is. But then again, perhaps he doesn’t need to be likeable. I mean, from the outset it looks like he’s the lead, and leads generally need to be liked, but after watching the pilot it definitely feels like more of an ensemble piece. And there are plenty of people in this ensemble who you’re sure to love.

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These include Lucious’ sons Andre, Jamal and Hakeem played by Trai Byers, Jussie Smollett and Bryshere Gray respectively. Andre is the hardest working son desperate to take over from his father. His conniving schemes and power hungry personality should makes us hate him but Byers plays it in such a way that we see quite a lot of sadness and vulnerability. It actually makes us quite sympathetic to him. Youngest son Hakeem is the typical spoiled party boy who on the surface seems very one dimensional.

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However he’s so much more than, as evident in the scenes he shares with his brother Jamal. The two have great on screen chemistry and the respect and love the two have for one other is actually quite touching. I’m hoping to see their relationship explored more in upcoming episodes, even if they are being pitted against each other by their parents. I think that newcomer Bryshere Gray will be the one to watch this season. However the award for most loveable character goes to Jamal. His whole story is just heartbreaking and Smollett really shines in the role. His performance of Good Enough was one of the standout scenes of the episodes; very deep and emotional.

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To me all of the actors performed extremely well in the pilot so it’s hard to choose a standout. But if I had to pick one, it would of course go to the powerhouse talent that is Taraji P. Henson. I mean it’s not that surprising really, the woman owns pretty much everything she’s in. Henson plays Cookie, the matriarch of the family who’s just gotten out of prison. What I love is that the character can be funny, scary, loving and manipulative all in one scene. Despite her seemingly harsh persona, you can see that at her core she’s just a woman who wants the best for her sons. We got to see a lot of Cookie’s relationship with Jamal in the pilot but it’ll be interesting to see how they develop the bonds between her and other sons throughout the season.

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As well as the very talented cast and the excellent writing, Empire has a fantastic music department. I knew we were in for a treat when I heard that Timbaland was set to write and produce the songs for the show, and he did not disappoint. Throughout the episode we hear his influence in some really high quality songs. They fit so perfectly with plot, as well as being enjoyable to listen to. I think even those who aren’t fans of R&B, rap or hip hop can appreciate the music in this show.

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Although I had an inclination that Empire would be good, the pilot really exceeded my expectations. At its core the show is all about family, and how the relationships people share with their family can influence not only their actions but who they are as people. And I think that’s something we can all relate to. Hopefully the show can keep up the high standard it set in the pilot.

Rating: 4.5/5

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