March 5, 2021

Empire: Lee Daniel’s Version of TV’s “Dynasty” with Music

Lee Daniels has taken on television in a big way with Fox TV’s Empire, a dramatic soap opera featuring contemporary urban music and a predominantly African-American cast. You may recognize his name as the producer of such Oscar-worthy films as Monster’s Ball, Precious or Lee Daniels’ The Butler. His role as executive producer of this Dynasty-esque 12 episode season is further proof that television is attracting top talent these days.

Being a fan of musical theater and film, I dutifully watched Smash and Nashville in hopes of finding tv vehicles that make good use of story-driven music but I was always a little disappointed. By contrast, I look forward to episodes of Empire with its depiction of a certain silk-lined pocket of the black music elite. The eye-popping fashions alone are worth checking out. The engaging music is guided by producer titan, Timothy “Timbaland” Mosley who has helped craft hits for Madonna, Brandy, Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z and Aaliyah.

The basic plot line is Shakespeare’s King Lear with three sons vying for the top spot at Empire Enterprises led by father, Lucious Lyon played by Terrence Howard who, unbeknownst to his family, has a terminal illness. His ex-wife, Cookie Lyon, brilliantly played by Taraji P. Henson (Person of Interest) has just gotten out of prison after taking a 17-year rap for the drug deal that started the record company. Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) plays Lucious’ feisty secretary, Becky in all of her big woman sassiness. All of the cast is well-chosen, but the guest roles alone are great fun such as Cuba Gooding Jr. as veteran songwriter Puma, Naomi Campbell as Camilla, his youngest son’s down-low mistress and Courtney Love as a has-been pop singer who wants to climb to the top again.  Even the esteemed Gladys Knight makes a cameo appearance as herself singing at a funeral. I am definitely going to continue watching this entertaining mix of music, drama and fashion.

Masterpiece Theater this is not, but this is definitely a great addition to the Crayola box of current TV fare.

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