Pre-Finale “Who Will Assume Control of Empire Entertainment?” League Table
1. Hakeem: He’s impulsive, shallow, and easily the least intelligent member of the Lyon family. Naturally, his father has been grooming him to take over the business for years.
2. Jamal: The most musically gifted Lyon is the one with the purest intentions. Only problem is, his dad is a raging homophobe who can’t stand that his son is gay.
3. Cookie: She deserves to run the whole company because she built it from the ground up. Also, she’s literally perfect in every way.
4. Lucious, when he finds out his ALS diagnosis was a clerical error: Look, it could happen.
5. Billy Beretti, in a hostile takeover: Buying Empire might be a better choice than murdering Lucious in broad daylight in the middle of the street.
6. Vernon: He would be higher up on the table, but he’s got a serious nose candy issue.
7. Porsha: She could rule the world if she’d just look up from her BlackBerry every once in a while.
8. Fernando Rodney: I really like the Mariners this year.
Below the relegation zone:
1. Andre: Sorry, man. Your weird religious flirting subplot with Jennifer Hudson is not setting Twitter on fire.
A Video of a Child Covering “Drip Drop” on YouTube
I’m sorry, but this song is not appropriate for little boys. Does he even understand what is dripping and dropping in the lyrics? Should he?
The End of Innocence
Andy Greenwald: Like Jamal Lyon, let me speak my truth for a moment: When I wrote my celebration of Empire last week, I hadn’t yet seen the most recent episode. You know the one I mean, right? The hour in which Andre brooded in a hospital that looked like the backdrop to an Extreme video, the formerly sturdy Vernon started sniffing coke like Scarface, and Derek Luke’s implacable Malcolm bedded Cookie and shot a man in the forehead all without ever leaving the office? It was, in a word, preposterous — and strangely devoid of the “subtle backbeat of humanity” I had so effusively praised in my piece.
Yet if you think this changed my mind about Empire, you’re mistaken. You don’t order a a lasagna and complain about the cheese. Part of the pleasure of being a TV fan is watching a high-stepping series lose its footing now and again. It’s the occassional wobble that make you appreciate the bigger strides.
And make no mistake: On the day of its first season finale, Empire is climbing through rarified air — and not just in terms of ratings or corporate extravagance. The show is a collective comet, the sort of shared, frenzied experience that this new age of narrowcasting was predicted to leave behind. Empire is a blast to watch. But what’s even more fun is the knowledge that we’re all watching it together. Yet tonight marks the end of something greater than Empire’s first season: It marks the end of the show’s innocence. In this interview with Vulture, showrunner Ilene Chaiken explains that everything but these final hours was in the can before the show even debuted — and before the cast’s egos and the audience’s expectations were rocketed into the stratosphere. Every decision she and cocreators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong make from here on out will echo around a circumstance that’s suddenly grander than Lucious’s penthouse. The only thing harder than attracting 15 million viewers a week is finding a way to hold on to them. And pleasing them? Trust me: It’d be easier to sign Travie Wild.
For better or worse, the Empire that returns this fall (or next January; Fox hasn’t yet committed one way or another) will be a different show. History would suggest that we’re due for a hangover season as writers adjust to the demands of the new reality (it’s easier to burn through a zillion plots when the office planner doesn’t go past March; how to budget story when the show could run for years?) and the actors adjust the sizes of their guest houses. Lost struggled mightily in Year 2 and so did Grey’s Anatomy before both rebounded with authority. I’d expect Empire to follow a similar path. The show is too emotionally fearless to be a one-hit wonder, and we’ve already seen enough of Taraji P. Henson’s Cookie to know that betting against her would be a colossal, potentially fatal mistake. But it also might be awhile before Empire is back at the top of the charts, creatively speaking. Unlike a pop song, a hit TV show can’t be obsessed over in the studio; there’s no time for perfectionism or pitch correction. Tonight may be the last time Empire’s fans are in perfect tune with its makers. Luckily for all involved, an abundance of treble is what made the show so appealing in the first place.
Jacoby’s Empire Season 2 Pitch
David Jacoby: The core story line of Empire involves Lucious Lyon’s search for a successor for his Empire empire. Anyone who watches Empire know that Lucious’s Empire empire is, at its core, a family business. In true Empire fashion, Lucious announces to his family that he is suffering from ALS, will die within a year, and will select one of his three sons to be his successor. Here is the problem, though: None of Lucious’s sons is Lucious. Each son that Lucious has sired has one of the personality traits that allowed him to be so successful, but none has all of the personality traits that allowed him to be so successful. Lucious has essentially splintered himself into his three sons. However, in Lucious’s mind, each one has a “dealbreaker” personality trait as well. Let’s go through them:
Luciousness He Inherited: Business sense, financial savvy, and corporate acceptability.
“Dealbreaker”: Craziness, more craziness, and, you know, being married to a white girl.
Luciousness He Inherited: Musical talent, heart, and stage presence.
“Dealbreaker”: Soft, not aggressive enough … OK, fine, why not just say it? Lucious doesn’t want to give the company to Jamal because he is gay.
Luciousness He Inherited: Street appeal and libido.
“Dealbreaker”: Dumb, lack of business sense, and how are you going to run Empire without a relationship with Cookie?
Here is my idea for Season 2: Empire Entertainment signs a rapper who Lucious sees all of himself in. For some reason I want him to be named “Bars.” Bars resides at the top of the charts and in the bottom of Lucious’s heart. He has the business sense of Andre, the musical ability of Jamal, the “Drip Drop”–ocity of Hakeem, and none of the dealbreakers. He is quickly and clearly Lucious’s favorite son and is also the only thing that can bring the brothers together: a common enemy. After a season of plotting ways to take down Bars together, the brothers’ bond is the strongest it has ever been. After seeing all of her sons on the same page for the first time, seeing how happy Lucious is with his new protégé, and seeing an opportunity to do some bad bitch shit, Cookie merks Bars. Because she is Cookie and this is Empire. We all know who really runs things.
What If Empire’s Songs Had Late ’90s Southern Rap Album Covers?
Isaac and Shea
Bold (and 100 Percent Correct) Predictions for the Empire Finale
- With Empire’s game-changing wardrobe supervisor knowing she’ll soon have a hiatus to recharge her creative batteries, she empties the tank on the two-hour finale. Lucious supplements his scarves and ascots with extravagant cummerbunds, shows off various matching top hat and monocle sets, and spends at least one scene propped up in the corner of the conference room, rasping from inside a Givenchy suit of armor. Cookie wears a “dress” composed of colorfully dyed live sloths hugging her body. Hakeem’s diamond earrings swell to the size of softballs. Andre goes business-casual in a scene. Pleat-front khakis, the whole deal. All sartorial hell breaks loose. No, triple-pleated-front khakis.
- Hakeem will credibly lip-sync one verse of a new song, marking the first time in the show’s 12 episodes he has done so. But only one verse. After that, it’s back to the random mouth motions that occasionally match up with the soundtrack. Everyone continues to pretend he is a great performer.
- Empire will continue its astonishing ratings growth, with the finale rising from the new series baseline of almost 15 million to 45 million. Spinoffs focused on Cookie (Cookiepire), Jamal (The Talent), and head of security Malcolm Deveaux’s detective agency side business (Empire Nights) are announced Thursday morning. Series creator Lee Daniels retires to a midsize island.
- The blockbuster hit “Drip Drop” will be performed no fewer than eight times, the last of which will involve an entire cast lip-dub — including characters who were killed off and exuberant Fox programming executives popping bottles of champagne — over the closing credits.
- There will be a game-changing plot twist that will ensure the show’s viability past one wildly successful, soapy season. It will be one thing from this list:
1. Lucious announces he’s splitting control of the company in three, handing the reins to Cookie, one son chosen by a deadly game of Russian roulette, and his pet cheetah, Biggie, which he believes is possessed with the spirit of the late Christopher Wallace. The game is changed.
2. Lucious ritualistically sacrifices all three of his sons and drinks their blood from the Holy Grail — he won it from Bruce Springsteen in a high-stakes poker game — in hopes of gaining immortality. It works, and Empire is renewed for 100 more seasons.
3. In a cliffhanger teasing the unimaginably opulent wedding that will open Season 2, Lucious announces that he’s changed his mind once again, but now he’s made a final decision about who he’s marrying: Cookie, Anika, Porsha, Camilla, Becky, Rhonda, Tiana, and Olivia. As he constantly reminds us, he is a dying man and he does not give a fuck about society’s “polygamy rules.” He’s going full harem.
4. Andre strangles Lucious to death with an ascot. But rather than claim Empire for himself as his father’s vanquisher, he quits the music business entirely and relocates to rural Idaho, where he and Rhonda pursue their true passion: Moving from town to town to have sex with local politicians.
5. Porsha drops the gum-smacking dunce act and is is revealed to be a super-genius who has been manipulating the entire Lyon family the whole time. She’s altered all the stock certificates to include only her name and seizes control of Empire. Lucious proposes upon the discovery. Porsha accepts.
6. Lucious hugs Jamal, and the show ends forever. No Season 2. And everyone is OK with it. This feels like closure.
- Oprah Winfrey arrives to tease her much-rumored-about character arc for next season. She’ll be playing herself, and she approaches Cookie (they became pen pals during Cookie’s prison stint) about the possibility of cutting an album of Elle Dallas covers. A displeased Courtney Love, now playing herself for some reason, returns to fight Oprah. They battle to a draw. Several skyscrapers are destroyed during the melee.
- Barack Obama appears to pay off Lucious’s passing, early-season mention of being annoyed by the president’s incessant fund-raising calls. Obama joins Lucious at the piano for an impromptu duet of “Drip Drop,” then immediately hits him up for a contribution to his presidential library fund. Lucious asks if the library could be named “Lucious Lyon Presents the Barack H. Obama Presidential Library.” Obama agrees. They sing “Drip Drop” again.
- Judd Nelson’s Billy Beretti finally delivers the triumphant Breakfast Club fist-pump we’ve been craving since his first appearance. It happens at the end of Lucious and Obama’s fifth time through “Drip Drop.” No Season 2. Everyone is OK with it. This feels like closure.
Does Empire Really Understand the Hip-Hop Business?
Amos Barshad: I watched just enough Empire to know I don’t need to watch any more Empire. I guess I’m still hoping for that great rap show that doesn’t, as Andy Greenwald put it, have a “bizarrely bullish view of the music industry” — a rap show about the music world that actually exists, nonexisting record sales and all. Still, though: I get what everyone gets about Empire. Scene to scene, line for line, there’s nothing more entertaining on TV. And I stand for nothing if not the joys and palliative properties of communal engagement. And I’m weirdly proud, for totally unearned reasons, that it’s rap music that has birthed the latest bit of event television. I will root for you, Empire; I will ride with you. But I’ll still be waiting for that one true great rap show.1
Yes, Empire Understands the Hip-Hop Business
I did watch and love every last episode of How to Make It in America, so feel free to ignore everything I just said.
Schilling: The Empire soundtrack album debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard charts last week. It sold 130,000 copies, 9,000 more records than Madonna’s latest release, Rebel Heart. A collection of real songs by fake musical acts triumphed over a flesh-and-blood living legend. That’s a testament to the pop phenomenon that surrounds this show. It’s doubly impressive because most of the songs on the album … suck.
I will admit that I’ve listened to “Money for Nothing,”2 “Can’t Truss ’Em,” and “You’re So Beautiful” in the car a couple of times in the last week. I did so with my windows conspicuously rolled up. There’s a winking, facetious quality to all of these songs, save for a few notable exceptions.3 These tracks are like those greeting cards you buy because they look sort of homemade and appear more like they’re “from the heart.” But that’s why they’re funny to me. They’re gag songs, parodies of the many genres and subgenres of modern pop music. They capture all the stylistic tropes of the form without any of the feeling, which I guess makes them funny in the way that it’s funny to look at videos of cats playing a keyboard. It’s just … off. Courtney Love’s “Walk Out on Me” is a cheeseball interpretation of the whiskey-soaked rock ballad. “Good Enough” approximates a deep cut Justin Timberlake song. “Drip Drop” is a parody of music. Empire really gets the music industry, but maybe it gets it too well. It’s so keyed in to what works in the art form that it’s deconstructing it, laying it bare, and illuminating all the stultifying clichés. It just happens to be completely by accident.
Seriously, This Song Is Not for Kids!
“Money for Nothing” samples the Dire Straits song of the same name, and might be the most atrocious, corniest moment on the entire album.
Most of the tracks with Jussie Smollett, a.k.a. Jamal, are solid enough. I particularly have a soft spot for “Keep Your Money,” because it actually sounds like the sentiments expressed are legitimate.