"Empire" album cover featuring Terrence Howard and Taraji P Henson

“Empire” season one finale tonight!


“Empire” is one of those extremely rare shows. It stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, actors of color in the leads. It’s about the music industry. It deals with issues within a Black family. And it’s become a ratings juggernaut that has steadily gained an audience since the airing of the pilot episode. It’s already earned a second season.

For those who’ve been living under a pop culture rock since January, here’s the skinny.

“Empire” synopsis

“Empire” follows Lucious Lyon (Howard), head of the multi-million dollar record label Empire. He’s decided to King Lear this literal empire to his three sons after an impending public IPO deal. The reason for the sudden push: Lyon’s been diagnosed with ALS and only has three years to live.

The monkey wrench comes in the form of Cookie Lyons (Henson), Lucious’s ex-wife who did seventeen years in jail for slinging drugs. Luscious and Cookie built Empire on that drug money, and Cookie wants what’s hers.

What unfolds is an exploration of family power struggles and damned good hip hop/ R&B music that borrows from the “Dallas” and “Dynasty” playbooks but adds a flavor all its own, largely thanks to the focus on an African-American cast and the diversity that brings among the usual all-White soap opera business families.

 “Empire” behind the scenes

A particularly strong theme from the African-America community is Lucious’s homophobia. It’s a topic rarely discussed, but explains why in 2008 the Blacks in California could be liberal enough to vote in Barack Obama but in the same election vote down laws supporting homosexual rights.

Son Jamal’s homosexuality complicates Lucious’s feelings for his son Jamal. For you homophobes at home, be warned that the show doesn’t shy away from showing the homosexual relationship.

Another great tip with “Empire” is we get to see places soaps rarely take us. It’s got it’s level of posh and wealth, but we also see the hood from which Cookie and Lucious escaped, as well as slumming with a low-end studio where gang activity could (and does) pop off at a moment’s notice.

You wouldn’t see Alexis Carrington in places like this (you young kids can Google her too).

Series creators Danny Strong and Lee Daniels, the team behind “The Butler,” are responsible for the high level of creativity and polish on the show. I’ll admit, this ain’t no “The Wire” or “House of Cards,” but there’s at the very least an Emmy nomination in the cards for Henson and probably even Howard.

(Side note for “Buffy” fans. Remember Jonathan the sorcerer from “Superstar?” THAT’S Danny Strong. Google it.)

And if all that isn’t enough for you, check out the list of guest talent in front of and behind the camera: Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blidge, Judd Nelson, Naomi Campbell, Derek Luke, John Singleton, Mario Van Peebles, Courtney Love, and Debbie Allen. And that list grows with “Empire’s” success.

Still one episode to go!

Tonight is the two hour season one finale. It’s a bit late for you to binge watch the preceding episodes, but I’m sure if you tune in tonight you won’t be disappointed. Expect an old-school “Dynasty”-style throw down catfight between Cookie and Anika (Grace Gealey) — Lucious’s fiance and business partner who, needles to say, is not high on Cookie’s list of people who need a place in Empire.

And did I mention the original music with production headed by Timbaland? I’m just saying. Here’s a taste.

Update: “Empire” season finale kicked ass in the numbers. Just ask Collider.

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