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Empire is no Desperate Housewives.

 

In an age when a show such as Empire gains a lot of hype, the pressure to sustain that hype is even bigger than the show itself. It’s very easy for shows to debut to a critically acclaimed first season; we’ve seen it time and time again. 2004 saw Desperate Housewives become a break out hit averaging 21 million viewers a week in its first season (and locking in a great deal of awards and praise) but then hit a snag production wise during its sophomore season to follow (Yes, we can admit it; Season 2 was lackluster and even the shows stars admit that).

 

Empire is no Desperate Housewives.

 

Empire premiered in its second season and, it’s safe to say, the Lyons ROARED.

 

Lee Daniels should be patting himself on the back, along with his writing team and its entire cast. I can’t even pick out a favorite moment because there were many, however, I will recognize the stand out performances of Jussie Smollett & Taraji P. Henson (Jamal & Cookie). WARNING: This review will feature MANY spoilers so I’m apologizing now! Read at your own risk! (And it’s solely focused on Cookie & Jamal.)

 

Throughout the premiere, Jamal and Cookie (in my eyes) stole the episode. Jamal has grown and I am very happy about this. As an openly gay man myself, I am in full support of Jamal and I feel he should become the poster boy of the LGBT community within the realms of Empire (and outside of it). Jamal has inherited a lot of pressure since the Season 1 finale, which is easy to see. He was given Empire by his father and that is no easy monster to tame. Empire is a global brand and Jamal received it unexpectedly. He’s doing the best he can to manage, but the price is heavy. When I saw Michael (played by the handsome Rafael de La Fuente) sitting at the table waiting for Jamal, I squealed. I always loved them together and was heartbroken when they split up last season. The kiss between them (which was very sexy and aggressive) showed just how much Jamal has changed. However, it also showed Lee Daniels bravely telling primetime television that it’s time to start treating LGBT characters the same as heterosexual characters. The kiss wasn’t interrupted by a quick cut or change of scene; it was prominent and I loved it! Moving on. Throughout the rest of the episode, we saw Jamal dealing with multiple things; GLADD wanting to give him an award, visiting his jailed father, fighting with Hakeem and then finally, we get to the part that made me want to jump through the TV screen. (I’ll get to that after I talk about Cookie.)

 

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Taraji P. Henson did not win the Emmy on Sunday for her role on Empire and I’m okay with that (Don’t hate me! I have a valid reason for saying this). Since she didn’t win for the first season, she now has more momentum to make sure she locks down a nomination next year and win! Last night, I think it’s safe to say Taraji may have known she wasn’t going to win so she prepared by saying to the Emmy voters: it won’t happen again next year! She brought her A game to this premiere, wrestling with some pretty big demons that have followed her from Season 1. She’s trying to protect her family while they insist on trying to kill one another. One of my favorite moments was when she, Hakeem, Anika and Andre were walking toward the conference room where Jamal was. The shot, to me, was iconic (Hakeem on that hover board made me laugh). And then, the rug got pulled out from under Cookie. Her plan to take back Empire with the investment of $250 million from a guest character was thwarted by Lucious himself with Jamal already in on the plan. It was a brilliant moment of sabotage and drama. Then, add in the fact that the man she “snitched” on in court last season (Frank Gathers played by Chris Rock in this episode) is now in prison with Lucious and determined to get back at her. Cookie’s mama bear claws come out. She ensured that her sons would be safe while thinking of a plan. Cue Lucious to the rescue! (Terrance Howard deserves a nomination for this scene! Go watch it!) One thing I love is the torrid relationship between Cookie and Lucious. Just when you think Lucious wants her to rot in hell, he rescues her and just when Cookie is probably ready to leave Lucious to rot in jail, she comes to his rescue.

 

Now, the scene that basically cemented Jamal and Cookie as the standout stars of the episode…ready?

 

The final scene of the episode.

 

So, Cookie sent everyone to Lucious’s house to keep them safe while she tried to deal with the situation that is Frank Gathers. Everyone is basically restless because they’ve no idea what the real danger is and Carol (Cookie’s sister) tries to explain to them prior to the scene unfolding. There’s a beautiful and delicious moment between Hakeem and Jamal where Hakeem shouts “I DESERVE TO BE THE KING” (Cue: “OH I JUST CAN’T WAIT TO BE KING” from the Lion King!). So, Cookie arrives, informing them all that the danger was put to rest. They are safe. I was expecting a group hug but then, Jamal says, with a smile on his face, “Get out.” Cookie is confused (and so was I!). Jamal is angry that they betrayed Lucious and demands they all get out. Rhonda says “I’ll happily leave” and so she goes with Andre and Hakeem and then lastly, Cookie and Jamal are in the doorway. She pleads with him that she can fix all of this and Jamal looks her in the face and says “Get out.” And then…SLAP! Cookie slaps him! When this happened, you should’ve seen my reaction. I was like “OH!” And then, after a second slap (Again, I shouted “OH!”), Jamal steps closer to her, a hard blazing look in his eye and he says “You done now, lady?” The fact that he refers to Cookie as lady showed a huge rift between them and just how furious Jamal is with her. Last season, he was her pride and joy. She was “Mom.” Now, she’s lady. If that isn’t a sign that he’s cutting her off, I don’t know what is. WHOEVER on the writing team wrote this scene, PLEASE put me in touch with them so that I may thank them for this wonderfully written moment!

 

So in my eyes, Cookie and Jamal are the stars of this episode and if the writing stays this strong with them, they may be the stars of the season. I’m excited for what’s to come because Empire does very well with drama and twists. If the rest of the season is as strong as this episode, then I foresee many awards being dished out next year! As a writer, I appreciate good writing and that is hard to find these days when there are so many shows on TV with lackluster writing. Empire’s writing team is brilliant and I dream to join their ranks one day soon (Yes, Lee, I am talking directly to you!).

 

Produced By: Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, Brian Grazer, Francie Calfo, Ilene Chaiken

Written By: Danny Strong & Ilene Chaiken

Distributed By: Lee Daniels Entertainment, Danny Strong Productions, Little Chicken Inc., 20th Century Fox Television

Starring: Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Bryshere Y. Gray, Jussie Smollett, Trai Byers, Grace Gealey, Malik Yoba, Kaitlin Doubleday, Gabourey Sidibe, Ta’Rhonda Jones, Serayah
Release Date: September 23, 2015
Run Time: 42 minutes
Rating: TV 14

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