Taraji P. Henson’s instantly iconic character fueled the Empire engine in Season 1 with her flinty ambition, outrageous zingers and deliciously violent outbursts. And while the show’s writing staff might fear letting Cookie’s candle burn too brightly, too quickly, dialing her back from an 11 to a safer 7 would be like selling tickets for a Lady Gaga concert, then substituting Jessica Simpson. Old Girl did 17 years in the clink — a kinder, gentler 2.0 would be as unsatisfying as it would unbelievable.
GO EASY ON THE GUEST STARS
No disrespect to Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, but wasn’t her “music therapist” Michelle a vortex through which all dramatic action disappeared? (In other words, she was the anti-Cookie.) We understand everybody and their cousin’s cousin wants to play with the cool kids of Fox’s ratings smash, but story should always drive the need for guest stars — not the other way around.
AND USE THOSE GUEST STARS PRUDENTLY, TOO
We were intrigued when Cuba Gooding Jr. — yes, another Oscar winner — popped up as Cookie’s old crush. But like Fake-Ass Lena Horne’s nerve in a verbal sparring match with Ms. Lyon, he almost immediately went “poof!” and disappeared, leaving us somewhere between “Was there some kind of contract or scheduling problem?” and “Did dude win a walk-on role in a charity auction?”
GO BEHIND THE MUSIC
We loved the amount of new music Hakeem and Jamal churned out over the course of the show’s freshman season, but we missed seeing how (or even whether) either rising artist took one of his promising singles from the studio to the top of the charts. There’s got to be drama the show can wring from the grueling process of talk-show appearances, radio glad-handing and awards-show jockeying. (And a little intel on the final chart position of “Drip Drop” wouldn’t hurt, either.)
LET’S GET UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH DWIGHT WALKER
We learned in the Season 1 finale that Lucious’ birth name is Dwight Walker — a delicious nugget that promised the show’s sophomore season might shed some light on how Terrence Howard’s enigmatic record exec came to be such an unrelenting, unrepentant bastard. Given that he’s the epicenter of Andre, Jamal and Hakeem’s psychological struggles (and song-writing), we’d be down for an entire episode fleshing out his villainous origin story.
KEEP ANDRE BIZ-ZY
Seeing how Andre is the only one of his siblings with an actual business degree, we got a little nervous when his music therapist had him doubting his desire for his dream job atop the Empire Entertainment food chain. As the eldest Lyon brother continues his harrowing struggle with mental illness (and embarks on a journey toward fatherhood) in Season 2, here’s hoping he doesn’t get sidetracked by a life of religious purpose or some ill-advised dream of music stardom. Bad Andre, after all, equals good drama.
FORGE A MOTHER AND CHILD REUNION
Season 1 ended with Cookie and Jamal on opposite teams — at least from a business standpoint. But the duo’s incredibly close relationship — unlike Jamal’s father, Cookie never judged or shamed her son for being gay; he didn’t hesitate to join forces with her the moment she got out of jail — is arguably the beating heart of Empire. We’re OK with some some fraying around the edges of Cookie and Jamal’s bond, but we’d never buy a complete and total break.
KEEP US LAUGHING
News of Ta’Rhonda Jones (as the hilariously blasé Porsha) and Gabourey Sidibe (as sharp-tongued Becky) getting upped to series-regular status is proof that EPs Ilene Chaiken, Lee Daniels and Danny Strong understand the importance of some LOL moments to balance out the high drama of the Lyon Family Dysfunctional Hour. Dare we wish that Porsha do some kind of undercover corporate espionage work? (Ummm… hell yes, we do!)
BRING BACK THE LOVE
Courtney Love’s raw portrait of recovering-addict diva Elle Dallas — attempting a comeback under Cookie’s watchful eye — was not just emotionally compelling but also gave us an intriguing glimpse at the challenges faced by older female artists trying to stay relevant in the youth-driven record biz. Fingers crossed we’ll get a second helping!
WE LIKE THAT BOO-BOO POW!
Shake your head in silent judgment if you must, but we really want a minimum of two catfights street brawls per season between Anika and Cookie. All together now: “Who’s Boo-Boo Kitty now, bitch?!”
GIVE JAMAL SOME LOVE (OR AT LEAST SOME LOVIN’)
Now that Jamal is out and proud — with his star on the rise — he needs a Portia to his Ellen, so to speak. And since we’re not sure director-type Ryan (or sweet ex Michael) have the right resume for the job, here’s hoping Lucious’ heir apparent gets his mingle on when Empire returns in September. (Shirt optional, of course.)
PUMP UP THE RHONDA
We appreciated that Kaitlin Doubleday’s alter-ego wouldn’t sleep with a skeevy elderly dude to help Andre advance his corporate cause, but her character got a little less scheming (and a lot less fun) toward the end of Season 1. With a new bun in the oven and Uncle Vernon’s blood literally on her hands, however, here’s hoping she brings the crazy — and maybe clashes with Cookie? — this fall.