Sex, money, power and music is a somewhat heady combination if ratings on Fox’s record breaking hip-hop drama Empire are anything to go by. When it premiered in the states at the beginning of the year, it attracted a healthy 9.9 million viewers. For the finale - 10 weeks later – a whopping 17.6 million tuned in. So what’s all the fuss about?
Created by Lee Daniels, who broke through in 2009 with Precious and then The Butler [and has since been nominated for two Oscars] Empire’s action starts when over-the-top music mogul and company boss Luscious Lyon (Terrance Howard) discovers he has a terminal illness. Soon after, he announces he intends to hand over his CEO position to one of his three sons. But which one? Entitled spoilt bad-boy rapper Hakeem? Business brained, but bipolar, Andre? Or middle son Jamal, a musical genius who just so happens to be gay?
So far, so fabulous, especially when you consider all of this is played out to a soundtrack created by super producer Timbaland. Then, Luscious’s ex-wife Cookie (and Mum to his boys) sashays out of jail, after 17-years, and onto the scene and demands her share of the business – which was started by drug money that she went down for. What follows is an epic love/hate battle for the company and the loyalty of their children - delivered via fierce one-liners and torrid accusations. No wonder Daniel’s has neatly summed up the show as the “Black Dynasty.”
Whilst it’s impeccably cast, it’s Cookie [played by Taraji P.Henson] who steals it. When Empire aired in the states, she practically broke Twitter thanks to fans repeating her damning put-downs and truth-filled stingers (our favourite is when she casually refers to Luscious’s new wife as “Yoko.” To her face.) The quips skate off her tongue and she’s the willing-and-able creator of havoc in whatever room she enters. Without a doubt, Cookie Lyon is a pop cultural icon in the making – we’ll see more of her in the second season, which has already been commissioned.
Need convincing further? Surely not. But it won’t hurt to let you know that the celebrity guest list is more than a bit mega, too. Naomi Campbell, Snoop Dog, Jennifer Hudson and Courtney Love all cameo as themselves or as on-screen altar-egos. But it’s InStyle cover gal Rita Ora who proves, once again, why she’s so hot right now. She performs, as herself, at a party for Luscious Lyon in the two-hour season finale, alongside rapper Charles Hamilton on a song called NY Raining. It’s got ‘hit’ written all over it. Just like the show it debuts on.
Empire starts 28th April, 9pm, E4