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Review: “Empire” hitting strong notes of the music business


Note: The following recap contains spoilers for the first three episodes of “Empire,” entitled “Pilot,” “The Outspoken King,” and “The Devil Quotes Scripture.”

After only three episodes, Fox’s new series “Empire” has already established itself as a “King Lear”-esque drama with flashy, cheetah print clad characters and a constant stream of original music playing in the background.

The pilot opens with hip-hop mogul Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard, “Hustle & Flow”) learning that he has been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. From there, he decides that he needs to pass down his profitable entertainment company to one of his three sons. When Lucious’ ex-wife Cookie (Henson) gets released from jail and returns to claim the company for himself, tensions in the family elevate to new levels.

Highlights from the first few of episodes include a new love interest for the irresponsible playboy Hakeem Lyon (newcomer Bryshere Y. Gray), a funeral for beloved cousin Bunkie (Antoine McKay, “The Weather Man”) and a tense phone call between Empire owner Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard, “Hustle & Flow”) and an offscreen President Barack Obama. Each scene, although somewhat formulaic in approach, does not fail to include drama, hilarity and musical entertainment. In the early episodes, Cookie (Taraji P. Henson, “Hustle & Flow”) begins to form a somewhat amusing habit of bursting into whatever room the scene is taking place in, making a wild accusation and then being forcefully thrown out.

Although the show is not groundbreaking in concept, last week’s episode introduced a new self-conscious, philosophical perspective on hip-hop culture. During an interview on national television, Lucious is accused of sensationalizing violence through violent rap lyrics and music videos. Lucious defends himself and the occasionally violent aspects of hip-hop culture by pointing to younger generations.

Regardless of opinion on the matter, audiences will no doubt become hooked on this exciting story of fame, fortune, family, betrayal, homosexuality in the black community, jealousy and hip-hop, as each episode of “Empire” incites more questions than the last. Will Cookie and Lucious rekindle their love? Will Jamal Lyon (Jussie Smollett, “Revenge”) decide to come out as gay to his fans? Who is the FBI agent and why is she working with Cookie? Who is Naomi Campbell’s character, and why is she in a relationship with young Hakeem? Will Obama ever make a cameo? When will the next hit single come, and who will be the one to claim it?

Tune in to “Empire” on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox.

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