The eagerly awaited Season 2 premier of episode 1 of FOX TV’s Empire exploded on social media sites last night, giving viewers another fresh season of the surreal antics of Terrence Howard’s Luscious Lyon and his dysfunctional but talented family and their business. The promptly titled episode “The Devils Are Here” started with a bang, and viewers was treated to show favorite Cookie, (Taraji P. Henson) navigating her way, scene after scene, with the typical prowess we all expected by this ex-con Queen Diva. We were even introduced to a little more backstory regarding who Cookie betrayed to make her deal to get out of prison (Chris Rock).
Yet seriously, did anyone have the same gut wrenching reaction I felt when Taraji came out, within the first five minutes no less, descending in a cage dressed in a gorilla costume? I mean, on FOX none the less?! Modesty and I immediately gave each other the glance like, “did this just set us back as black people just a little?’
Taraji explained in earlier interview with Vulture that she was inspired by late Hollywood actress Marlene Dietrich’s performance from and old black and white film called ‘Blonde Venus’. But when I researched the scene online, there were obvious differences between what I saw Cookie do, and what the late actress did performance wise. (see above) The comparisons only go as far as both actresses indeed disrobing from a gorilla costume. However, there are no pleas for righting social injustice in Blonde Venus. There wasn’t one redeeming social commentary presented in this performance by Marlene that could lay the foundation for Cookie’s display, especially if one looks in the background at the dancers in ‘Blonde Venus’ representing your stereotypical ‘jungle natives’, probably in blackface. Nor was there a cage for Marlene to grunt and jump around in, unlike Taraji. The story’s explanation for this madness stems from Cookie’s perspective, saying apparently that the black community can be ‘caged like animals’ in today’s society. One could only smirk in agreement when Cookie is asked, “how can we tell people this is about black freedom when we know Luscious is a killer?’
What was supposed to be a ‘benefit’ concert for Luscious, turned out to be a horrible mash up of borderline coonery with the gorilla fiasco, forced racial protest cut away shots (obviously thrown in for #blacklivesmatter protest crowd) and an odd Kendrick Lamar impersonator spitting verses at the ‘Free Luscious’ event hosted by none other than hip hop producer Swizz Beatz. After tossing in a few quick cameos by political figure Rev. Al Sharpton and CNN commentator Don Lemon, Empire’s season 2 opening sequence gave me visions of a boardroom full of hack writers literally picking ideas on paper out of a hat, and pasting them together to see what would work.
The battle for the throne of the mega-music kingdom of Lyons, and the brothers (Bryshere Y. Gray as Hakeem and Trai Byers as Andre Lyon) remain true to form fighting each other for the title of future CEO. Jamal’s (Jussie Smollett) evolution however from the insightful inspired artist, to angry and somewhat chauvinistic record exec was totally abrupt. Yes, Luscious pulled some of Jamal’s strings in the final episodes of last season, but it seems the writers (if they are the same writers) decided to bypass any reasonable amount of time for this character’s transitioning to his dark side. Even Hakeem’s petulant pouting undercut any real acknowledgement of independence we thought he gained last season after bagging “Boo-Boo Kitty’ from his father last season. Instead we get lines like Hakeem spouting “I’m gonna tell Mom” after slapping his CD out of Jamal’s hands over a disagreement over cover art came off quite childish.
The battle for the throne of the mega-music kingdom of The Lyons is still present, and the Lyons brothers (Bryshere Y. Gray as Hakeem and Trai Byers as Andre Lyon) remain true to form, fighting each other for the title of future CEO. Yet Jamal’s (Jussie Smollett) evolution from the insightful inspired artist, to angry and somewhat chauvinistic record exec was totally abrupt. Yes, Luscious pulled some of Jamal’s strings in the final episodes of last season, but it seems the writers (if they are the same writers) decided to bypass any reasonable amount of time for this character’s transitioning to his dark side. And how did Jamal and his ex-boyfriend Michael (Rafael de La Fuente) get back together so fast?
Even Hakeem’s petulant pouting undercuts any real acknowledgement of independence we thought he gained last season, after bagging “Boo-Boo Kitty’ from his father. Instead we get lines like Hakeem spouting “I’m gonna tell Mom” after slapping his CD out of Jamal’s hands over a disagreement over cover art, which came off quite childish.
The casting of Chris Rock as prison antagonist Frank Gathers was supposed to inject an element of fear in Cookie’s and Luscious’ lives, but instead came off just as another obligatory guest appearance likened to being one of many guest artists on a new rapper’s first album. Marisa Tomei also showed up as Mimi Whiteman, a potential investor looking to possibly take a seat on the Board of Directors. This situation was clumsily handled by Cookie, who pressures Grace Gealey’s character Anika (Boo Boo Kitty) to sleep with Marisa to gain a foothold, was executed with the grace of a drunk Bull Elephant. Watching Anika trying to coax Mimi with an awkward twerk show at a private party was a little embarrassing, considering we were left with the impression that she was free from Luscious’ grip last season. At the episode’s conclusion, Cookie discovers that she was tricked by Luscious, who gained Mimi’s allegiance from the inside of prison. Lyons’ sudden appearance from a projector on the boardroom wall descended into cartoonish villainy, almost echoing Dr. Evil from Austin Powers. The pacing of the show appears to be very rushed and disjointed this season. But my judgment may be a little premature, so I will look forward to see what the remaining episodes have to offer, but with a little skepticism.