In the run up publicity Fox rather underplayed the gay angle to their new hip-hop drama Empire. So it was kind of a surprise to find the show revolved around a Frank Ocean-esque Jamal. By the end of the pilot Jamal’s mom Cookie turned out to be the baddest PFLAG mom ever, delivering the camp line of the premiere: “I’m gonna show you a faggot really can run this company.”
To catch you up-to-date here is a quick synopsis of who we met and what we saw in the pilot. This show’s premise is familiar to anyone who lived through the 1980s. It’s basically Dallas, minus oil, plus hip-hop music.
Lucious Lyon is Jock Ewing. Built a fortune from humble beginnings. Apparently a good guy who cut some moral corners to make his fortune. The various sides of his kindness, family values and ruthless nature are reflected in his kids. Like Jock Ewing (and King Lear) he puts into play an epic showdown between his sons in a winner-take-all-battle for ultimate control of his company. (Also like Jock, he may not be around in a few seasons.)
Trai Lyon is JR Ewing. Slick, handsome, silver-tongued, (rarely sincere) ladies man. Trai is all tailored suits, hot girls, ambition and Machiavellian schemes. He pits his brothers against one another because a little thing like destroying family harmony is a small price to pay in the pursuit of money and power. Do not turn your back on him.
Jamal Lyon is Bobby Ewing. The pilot pretty well sets up Jamal as the moral center of the show. He is earnest, talented and gosh darn it loves making music and spending time with his family. The stage is set to make Jamal a fan favorite to win the control of the company. All that is in the way is his lack of ambition. Oh and he is unapologetically gay in an industry presumed by many to be homophobic.
Hakeem Lyon is Gary Ewing. He is the ne’er-do-well son who may also have substance abuse issues (he shows up too hung over to deliver in the recording studio). Not a bad guy he can produce when enough nurturing and support has been provided. His chances of inheriting the crown look remote except that he may be Daddy’s favorite.
Cookie Lyon is Cliff Barnes. That inconvenient gadfly that emerges from the past to upset the perfect balance of the present. While both Cliff and Cookie are way outclassed in money and power you’d do well not to underestimate them. A tenacious nature, burning vendetta and strategic alliances can get you far in Soapland.
So who’s Pam, Sue Ellen, Lucy and a handful of others? Aside from Cookie there wasn’t a lot of room for the women to make an impression in the premiere. But that is sure to change with Naomi Campbell on tap for episode two. Let’s just hope the impression she makes is not with a cell phone on the help’s forehead. Empire plays on Fox network, Wednesday, January 14, at 9:00 p.m. ET.