Plus it’s downright soap operatic in its twists, turns, and cliffhangers. Two seasons in the show has firmly cemented itself in the echelons of must-see TV. For those who have some managed not to see it, here’s a quick recap on where we are at the beginning of Empire’s third season.
(Deep breath…) Lucious Lyon is a music mogul and former drug dealer who has been diagnosed with ALS, meaning he has to start making preparations for his world-conquering company Empire Entertainment following his death. He decides it’s best his three sons duke it out to determine who will replace him.
The only wrinkle is their mother, Lucious’ ex-wife Cookie, has been released from jail and wants her half. That’s only the first interloper. Eldest son Andre broke off with Cookie to start their own record label, middle son Jamal was briefly in control of Empire, youngest son Hakeem has hooked up with his dad’s estranged fiancee, and that’s before you even get to the supporting cast who have been caught up in a web of affairs, murders, suicides, and mixtapes (…and exhale).
Sounds good? If you still need convincing that Empire is one of the most entertaining series airing right now, here are eight solid reasons why you must stream it through your VIDGO subscription this Fall.
If you’ve seen the season premiere, which aired on September 21, you will already know the answer to this. Don’t spoil it for the cordcutters! Empire’s second season ended with possibly the gutsiest cliffhanger the show had seen yet. Tensions had been building for a good long while between Rhonda Lyon, Andre’s wife, and Anika Calhoun, Empire Entertainment’s head of A&R.
During the first season, Anika became pregnant from an affair with Hakeem. Hoping to ensure her unborn child’s place on the Empire throne, she pushed the also-pregnant Rhonda down a flight of stairs, causing her to miscarry. Flash forward to the sophomore season, where Rhonda has all but recovered. Anika, meanwhile, is about to be called on to testify against Lucious. The only solution appears to be a mock wedding.
Rhonda finally faces off against Anika after the ceremony, coming to blows atop the wedding venue. The finale ended with the two of them grappling, seemingly tumbling over a balcony, and one of them screaming as they plummeted several stories…but who? You know you want to find out!
Empire has an all-star cast that would put the likes of Game of Thrones to shame. Terrence Howard has been giving some career-best work as the haunted head of Empire Entertainment, Lucious Lyons, and the rest of the ensemble is nothing to sniff at either. Young up-and-comers like Jussie Smollett, Bryshere Y. Gray and Trai Byers are great as the ambitious Lyons children, Oscar nominee Gabourey Sidibe has had a recurring role, and there’s the show-stealingly brilliant Taraji P.Henson as Cookie.
It’s had its fair share of celebs in the supporting cast, too, with past seasons including Naomi Campbell, Courtney Love, Jennifer Hudson and Marisa Tomei. Even with that tough competition, season three has some of the most exciting additions to the recurring stars. Private Practice star Taye Diggs is on board as a city councilman dragged into the whole saga, Kid Cudi as a new rival to Hakeem, and Clair Huxtable herself — that is, Phylicia Rashad — will be part of the action.
As if that’s not enough, Xzibit’s guest role has been expanded to series regular, meaning Lucious’s old rival Shyne is going to become a more persistent thorn in his side…
That’s without even getting into the cavalcade of celebrities who have cropped up in cameo roles. Most memorable so far have been Rosie O’Donnell as a former cellmate of Cookie’s, a Chris Rock as a locked-up drug kingpin Lucious did business with in his criminal past, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. — just before his public rehabilitation in The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story — as a wizened songwriter.
The reality of Empire Entertainment has been fleshed out considerably by fleeting roles where musicians play themselves, including the cream of modern hip-hop, R&B and pop. Expect both to continue in the third season, which has already announced a handful of its new famous faces on board. Lil Wayne’s mentor Birdman will also appear as himself, and rapper French Montana will play a member of a member of Lucious’s entourage.
Best of all is Mariah Carey, who will really stretch her acting chops by playing an established pop star with a reputation for diva behavior named Kitty.
As if the escalation of his ALS diagnosis wasn’t enough of a ticking time bomb, Lucious has a host of other reasons to accelerate the process of finding a replacement. Empire Entertainment, after all, was built on a less legitimate line of business. Cookie went down for the drug dealing operation which provided the Lyons with their early riches, but investigations into Lucious’s past crimes looks to be hotting up.
The feds are going to be all over season three, with Morocco Omari returning as Agent Tariq Cousins. Like Xzibit, Omari has been upgraded from a guest star to a series regular, suggesting that he’ll have a much larger role to play. Given what we already know about that role — not only is he an FBI agent, but he is also Lucious’s half-brother, giving his investigations into the Empire mogul’s past a personal edge — suggests that this could be one of the big storylines this year.
Which will get him first, the ALS or the jail cell? Only time will tell. Better tune in on VIDGO (coming soon) and find out!
Whoever it was who plummeted to an untimely death at the end of Empire’s sophomore season, it’s going to take its toll on at least some of the Lyons family. Already fighting among themselves to ensure the heftiest slice of their father’s entrepreneurial pie once he kicked the bucket, Lucious’s sons have been dealt blow after blow these past two seasons. Believe it or not, Hakeem sort of has it best.
Admittedly his dear old dad just married the mother of his child, and he was jilted himself. But spare a thought for the elder Jamal — who took a bullet meant for his dad and is subsequently confined to a wheelchair for the foreseeable future — and Andre, who was there to witness whoever it was who fell to their death last season.
Either he just saw his wife die, or his new mother-in-law. Emotions have always ran high in the Lyons kids and their dealings. When they’re this raw, though, you can see them getting even meaner as they wrestle with each other over the family legacy.
Empire has had weathered a lot of comparisons to similar works of fiction, televised or otherwise. Its plot twists have a lot in common with daytime soap operas, but the quality of the writing and performances speak to something more. There’s a classical element to the story of three sons trying to usurp their father, not to mention all of the swapping romantic partners within a family, which call to mind Greek tragedies. One work, in particular, has been cited with regards to this new batch of episodes, however.
Remember the criminal past of Lucious and Cookie Lyons might play into this season, what with the return of Xzibit’s Shyne and Morocco Omari’s Agent Cousins? That’s exactly what showrunner Ilene Chaiken has in mind, and she’s looking to a famous crime family as a model for this run of episodes: The Godfather. And what better series of movies and books to crib from if you’re dealing with the in-fighting of several generations of the same powerful family?
That might be the most tantalizing pitch for Empire season three. It’s like The Godfather, starring Taraji P. Henson, and with hip-hop instead of the Mafia. Sold yet?
Possibly the most compelling reason to stream Empire this fall? You’d be hard pressed to find people who aren’t watching the show. In the first season, the series managed to bring in an average of 17 million viewers watching live; that’s not counting the people catching up on their DVR or streaming services, or the millions of international viewers, either. There’s something about the show which makes for perfect watercooler discussion. Do you really want to be left out of that every Thursday for the next couple of months?
Empire is must-watch-TV by design. The prestige cast, the powerhouse team behind the camera, and the unbelievable places it takes it story push it from a fancy soap opera into the sort of rarefied air otherwise reserved for the likes of Lost or Breaking Bad. Everybody has their theories about what’s going to happen next, who’s going to live, who’s going to die, and just how scandalous the thing Cookie said last night was.
Watching television doesn’t have to be a solitary thing. It’s totally social: whether you’re debriefing with friends over coffee the day after or live-tweeting as you watch along on VIDGO, you have to be switched onto Empire.
There’s just one problem with Empire. It’s one of, if not the most, gripping series on the air right now. There are more award-nomination-worthy performances than you can shake an Emmy at. From the looks of it, this season will return to the slow burn, simmering interpersonal drama with some added crime elements. We have no doubt that there will be more emotionally wrenching cliffhangers.
So how can you stand to watch just one episode at a time? The waits between episodes are interminable! Well, you do always have the option of being patient, and letting the episodes build up on your VIDGO cloud-based DVR (coming soon). That way, you can deploy the oh-so-contemporary practice of binge-watching. Marathon the whole season, or a batch of episodes, in one day, and see what sort of a state you’re in afterward.
Of course, resisting the temptation to tune in live might be too great. We wouldn’t blame you. We also wouldn’t blame you for watching Empire as it comes out, then rewatching it all in time for the finale. Just to stay ahead of the curve.
Photos @ Jean_Nelson
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