First Impression: Fox's Empire Explores a Dicey Musical Dynasty

Empire Preview Pilot

The broadcast and cable networks have more than two dozen shows debuting this winter/spring, including the tale of the brave knight Galavant, a new take on an Odd Couple and a brain-craving iZombie. To help you prep for it all, TVLine is offering up some First Impressions.

Next up on our list….

THE SHOW | Fox’s Empire (Wednesdays at 9/8c, premiering Jan. 7)

THE COMPETITION | CBS’ Criminal Minds, ABC’s Modern Family/black-ish, NBC’s Law & Order: SVU and The CW’s The 100

THE CAST | Taraji P. Henson (Person of Interest), Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow), Jussie Smollett (On Our Own), Bryshere Gray (aka rapper Yazz The Greatest), Trai Byers (90210), Gabourey Sidibe (American Horror Story), Malik Yoba (Alphas) and others

THE SET-UP | Music legend Lucious Lyon (played by Howard) is preparing to hand over his label to one of his three sons: prolific-but-problematic rapper Hakeem (Gray), reluctantly closeted R&B talent Jamal or business-savvy non-celeb Andre (Byers). Until, that is, his ex-wife Cookie (Henson) emerges from incarceration hardened by her time in the pen and rarin’ to claim dibs on the company she seeded 17 years ago. Uh-oh.Empire Preview TV

THE FIRST IMPRESSION | My God, Taraji P. Henson is having fun here. That recurring thought I had while watching the pilot, in which Cookie — a bit rough around the edges after getting out — reconnects, with varying degrees of success, with the men in her life and seeks a stake in the empire Lucious built while she was “away.” (Oh to have a nickel for every time she calls someone, female or male, the B-word.)

Shepherded by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, Empire presents a world ripe for exploration, even if it might ultimately turn out to be in a sudsy way à la a hip-hop Dynasty. Lucious is battling demons from his hardscrabble past, Cookie is a powderkeg whose fuse has been lit, the brothers have distinctly, sometimes tragically different relationships with their parents (as well as with one another), Yoba plays a consigliere type caught in the middle of this maelstrom…. Add original, sometimes awesome tracks from Timbaland and you get a rich, authentic canvas on which one can imagine any number of professional or personal crises arising — especially given a shocking, end-of-pilot twist.

Henson, as noted, is on fire here. Howard, though comparatively reserved, brings to Lucious the right aura of Bad Boy Gone Good. Of the sons, Smollett (top photo, with Henson) obviously gets the heavier notes to play — Jamal’s father will be enlightened no time soon, it is clear — while Gray’s rap skills/background bring an electricity and tactile edge to Hakeem’s performance scenes.

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE | The good: Empire is fittingly paired with Idol. The bad: It’s not leading out of Idol-in-its-heyday. As such, expectations should be tempered, even given Daniels’ pedigree and the pair of Oscar-caliber leads. Still, I hope to live in a world where a fantastically diverse, handsomely crafted drama such as this can improve on Red Band Society‘s anemic numbers.

Watch a preview for Empire, then vote in our poll below.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Ray says:

    I was going to Season Pass this show since the actors are supposed to be pretty good, but I couldn’t even get through the 22 minute preview on FOX that aired last night. It looked awful!

    I did learn however that Danny Strong who played a troubled teen on that controversial BtVS season 3 episode which got pulled after Columbine apparently came up with the concept for this show

  2. padraicjacob says:

    i want to check it out, but my DVR is full for that time slot

  3. Chris says:

    I can’t wait!!!

  4. Nick says:

    Premise just doesn’t grab me. I’ll check it out if a lot of people like it.

  5. Serena says:

    Honestly, the well crafted use of the song in the original promo (take me to church) had me hooked already. Looking forward to this!

  6. wrstlgirl says:

    Really bad time slot for my household but we’ll check it out. I don’t hold out much hope for it though. It kind of looks cheesy :-)

  7. rachelle says:

    I’m actually very interested in this. I’ll wait to see how people feel after a few episodes or to see if it gets renewed/cancelled.

    • wrstlgirl says:

      I’m just curious. If you’re interested why not watch it yourself rather than wait and let other people’s opinions decide for you. I watch shows that a lot of other people dislike but I like them and they are still on the air being renewed and vice versa.

      • mollytanner says:

        I don’t get that method either. Watch something only when other people like it? It’s like only watching shows because they are popular and not because you enjoy them. I understand not wanting to invest in something that may get cancelled right away, but there are shows that do exist without being popular.

        • Temperance says:

          The idea is to collect a few episodes and then decide whether to bother by using word of mouth from people with similar taste. It saves time when we have a window here of pretty great shows and little time to watch TV.

          • mollytanner says:

            I get that. There’s a lot of great TV, and I think new shows this year sound promising so it’ll just be more and more and more. I would just rather see for myself than depend on other opinions. I guess that’s why I don’t like Yelp either, lol.

    • Rodg says:

      What if people are waiting for you to watch it

  8. Larry says:

    It probably will do better than RBS since the diversity factor is something viewers might tune in for. But I can’t really get into the concept if it’s trying to be a musical or drama. Anyhow, it is different. I’m stll not sure it’ll hold my interest -either way. I probably won’t watch until I know how it’s faring in the ratings. Been burned too often getting invested in shows.

  9. I’m gonna pass on this show. I couldn’t even watch the preview it was so boring. Fox should have passed on this show. The only show worth watching on fox is Bones.

  10. Gern Blanston says:

    Skipping this for the same reason that I skip most shows on network television that try to be adult and gritty, they come across as fake and generic and it hinders my enjoyment of the show. I don’t expect every other word to be a curse word but, in the world of hip hop there has to be some cursing. And with it having to be sanitized to be on network TV they are not going to be able to pull of the realism that a show like this would need to pull me in.

  11. Zenobia Jackson says:

    I will watch anything with Taraji P Henson…Gabourey Sidibe is a nice bonus. I just hope that the material is as good as Henson.

  12. Kate says:

    I am going to give this a chance, first, I think it has a head start on the 100 returning (which I still have to take a deep breath about) and then I give up Modern Family for lots of stuff. I think I am giving it a episode limit though because I have short patience for soap opera dramas really. It really is the thing still holding me back from Jane the Virgin. Revenge got to be too much like that to me, but I’m sticking with it for completion sake and really its my true real soap opera I put up with (arguably I believe that is what AHS is turning into on me and the Americans doesn’t count as one).

  13. Tran says:

    I’ll give it a “maybe” on Empire. Really miss Taraji P. Henson when she was on POI.

  14. Tom says:

    It’s really an amazing show that is much better suited for an HBO or Showtime canvas.

  15. Ally Oop says:

    I intend to check this out. I love a good nighttime soap. My only question for you guys who have seen the pilot: Are some of the main characters likeable and can you root for them? Or are they too over-the-top or annoying?

    • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

      I’d say you will definitely root for Jamal and/or Hakeem, and you’ll root for Andre to fail (He’s bland; only character trait seems to be “white wife”). And once Cookie starts throwing furniture around, you’ll root for her.

      • herman1959 says:

        I was on the fence with this one, but since you thought so highly of it, I’ll at least give the pilot a look. Despite his rep, Terrence Howard has never been a favorite of mine.

  16. kmw says:

    Even though I will not watch, they are definitely right about the Idol lead in. Will not help however it should do better than Red Band Society. Good luck to it and FOX they need a hit badly

  17. Temperance says:

    I’m a huge fan of Taraji P. Henson, but I seriously doubt I’ll be able to stomach the rest. *sighs*

  18. Andie says:

    Guys, it’s “ceded” not “seeded”. Come on…

  19. Imzadi says:

    “The company she seeded?” Do you mean seeded in the sense of began, as in seeding a garden? Or do you mean ceded, as in given up?

  20. Why are they puttinng one of the few black drama’s on TV against the ONLY black comedy on network televesion…This could be on Tuesday night…I’ll watch this and tape Black’ish on my DVR

  21. kirads09 says:

    Yes this will be somewhat like Dallas or Dynasty and a bit of a soap opera. But there is one reason that will make this show click and why I will be tuning in: Taraji P. Henson

  22. KC says:

    No thanks – I predict a crash and burn

  23. Wait, so it’s about the head of a dynasty who has to decide which of his three sons will inherit the kingdom at the same time his domineering wife is released from prison? Please tell me that this is intentional homage to THE LION IN WINTER. Please, please tell me that someone has decided to make a rap music version of THE LION IN WINTER with Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard because, oh my God, I had no idea my TV needed that. But, hearing the premise, this is exactly what my TV needs. (This has got to be intentional. Terrence Howard is playing a character named Lucious Lyon.)

    • Amie says:

      Just watched the premiere and you are SO on the money. Cookie is a fierce Eleanor for a new world, Jamal is Richard Lion-Heart, Hakeem is stupid, immature John (with a side of Justin Bieber) and Andre is poor Geoffry, smarter than everybody else and ignored even though he would clearly be the best manager. Lion in Winter FTW!

  24. Sharon Mills says:

    we need more of Lee Daniel. how about some of E. Lynn Harris book come a reailty.sure to make great movies for black can show they can really act


  26. Carolyn Daniels says:

    i like this preview and I will watch it. I guess I’ll buying a dvr to catch my favorite shows. Got to do what a senior has to do. Bring on Empire

  27. Jean Keys says:

    I loved the show
    Wished it was two hours 😕
    Can’t wait til next week😀😃😉😊

  28. tatyanayvette says:

    For those who didn’t check it out, it was really good. It showed how the music industry can be especially, a family industry, the rift between the brothers and the parent, i cant wait to see how it unfolds.

  29. Ellen says:

    this was a awesome show ,and it maybe the typical nighttime drama show, but I also thought i would not like as well. I have to say i’m hooked.!!!!!!!!!! hope it continues luv,luv it thanks everybody

  30. Cessary says:

    I thought Empire looked like it might be a new series I would like. With that being said NOT!!!it got me at first but when she put the bib on to give him a —- job! And then it jumped to two men making out in bed I changed it. Not what I expected. Come on within the first 10 minutes they only could do that to keep you watching the producer need to rethink IT! So disappointed!

  31. RM says:

    I was impressed with the first epidose of Empire. And all the office buzz was similar. Sadly, the second episode displayed crude, silly, and violent content. There is enough exciting drama in the storyline that doesn’t need all that thug glorification. I will not watch going forward!

  32. Mac says:

    Best acting ever. Look forward to each episode every week. The chemistry between Cookie & Lucious is so mesmerizing that I can feel how strong love can be regardless of the trails and tubulations in our lives.

  33. Mac says:

    Best acting ever. Look forward to each episode every week. The chemistry between Cookie & Lucious is so mesmerizing that I can feel how strong love can be regardless of the trails and tribulations in our lives.