Last month Fox premiered the soapy drama “Empire”, starring Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. Howard plays Lucious Lyon, a rapper turned entertainment mogul (head of “Empire Records”), opposite Henson as his recently released from prison, loud-mouthed bossy ex-wife, Cookie. Together they have three grown sons, all who work for the family business: the oldest Andre (Trai Byers), is a married, college-educated accountman helping to make the company go public; the middle son, Jamal (Jussie Smollet), is a semi-closeted gay R&B singer trying to gain his dad’s respect; baby brother Hakeem (Bryshere Gray) is a wild, rapping lothario who’s clearly his daddy’s favorite.
The show is growing into a television version of a wunderkind. According to Entertainment Weekly,
“[Last night’s] episode hit 12.9 million viewers and a huge 5.1 rating among adults 18-49. That’s up 6 percent from last week in the demo (which, of course, was a record rating too).
In total viewers, Empire has gone up every single week – six total – since its premiere. Among adults 18-49, the series has risen five out of six weeks. I asked one broadcast analyst for a historic comparison point to help put the latest gain into some kind of perspective compared to other dramas that have risen in the ratings over the years. The rep replied: “Don’t have any new historical references for its post-premiere growth. It has literally exceeded all Nielsen total viewer records to date.” In other words, after Empire broke that record a couple weeks ago where the hip-hop drama series posted more consecutive ratings gains than any other new broadcast show in at least 23 years, the rise of Empire has become unprecidented.
Some people are hooked by Cookie’s brash boldness, while others love all of the inter-familial drama (murder, mistresses, and a lot of malice). Most people are big on the music, which thanks to mega-producer Timbaland and the real life talent of Smollet and Gray, actually sounds like Billboard hits.
Me? What’s kept me tuning in is the plotline driving nearly every other- family patriarch’s recent diagnosis of ALS. Knowing he’s dying, and given just about three years to live, he pushes his sons to battle out who should become king once he’s gone. Six episodes in and we’ve watched Lucious struggle to shave, try to control tremors in his hands and legs, and just last night, go into a panic when the muscles in his throat constrict leaving him unable to speak.
“Empire” of course, isn’t the first show to have it’s protagonist facing the Grim Reaper. I wrote about Kelsey Grammer’s turn as the dying and extremely corrupt Chicago mayor Tom Kane in the Starz show “Boss”. The most popular of the dead-man-walking leading men, by far, is Bryan Cranston’s Walter White on “Breaking Bad”. Cranston was masterful at playing White, who over the course of a few seasons, descended from a mild mannered chemistry teacher into a murderous, crystal meth-making drug kingpin.
When handled well, as is in the case of “Breaking Bad”, looming death is far more than a plotline (or a promise that the show won’t run for so many seasons it becomes a shell of its former self). It injects some real in fantasy. Yes, the rich and the powerful die, too.
Today my devotional reading came from Psalm 37, and I’ll close with some excerpted verses:
Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong;for like the grass they will soon wither,like green plants they will soon die away… do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a luxuriant native tree, but he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for him, he could not be found.
Reflection for the day: Everyone, no matter the sphere of influence, or size of their empire, has an end date.