Who Is the Least Interesting Character on ‘Empire’?


Shoehorned among all the splashy plot machinations (Cookie accidentally forgot to wear clothes to dinner! Hakeem is a misogynist in training! Jamal may have fathered a child with Raven-Symoné!) on last night’s clunky episode of Empire was the introduction of Courtney Love as recurring character Elle Dallas. Love, who shined so brightly in The People vs. Larry Flynt back when I still had braces and Batman bedsheets, mumbles and meanders her way through her first episode until our intrepid hero Cookie Lyon convinces her to “be real” — the surefire cure-all for any problem on this show.

Hakeem raps like Ma$e after taking one too many Klonopin? Tell him to be more real! Jamal is incapable of elevating his new song to the next level? Send him down to Bushwick and demand he be real! Why is Titan the most popular hip-hop artist in the world? Because he’s so fucking real. I know that Lucious is trying out this experimental ALS cure from Russia, but has he considered simply being a bit more real in his day-to-day life instead? That seems to work for literally everyone else.

All that Elle needed to do to recapture her lost mojo was let Cookie yell at her and make her take off her fur coat. The stock resolution wouldn’t have been so egregious if the journey to get there weren’t so banal. I understand that Elle is supposed to be a junkie and not as sharp as the other characters, but that’s not an excuse to be boring, especially when the soap opera genre demands histrionics.

Soaps by their very nature are filled with eccentric, sociopathic narcissists who will do whatever it takes to survive. If it means lying, stealing, or even killing, so be it. That sort of behavior is frowned upon when deployed in non-televised scenarios, so the avid soap opera viewer lives vicariously through the insane, duplicitous, selfish people on their favorite programs. One can hope that in future episodes Elle finds a personality or, at the very least, reveals she’s a vampire or something, because Empire is being drowned by its multitude of useless characters and mediocre performances. It cannot afford another. I’ve compiled a list of the dead weight here, so that you feel comfortable taking another bong rip while they’re onscreen instead of paying attention:


Last night’s big Anika scene put her in an elevator with Porsha, Cookie’s clueless assistant. Anika is a bit of an amateur schemer and saw an opportunity to try to turn Porsha to her side by offering her more money and more prestige. So far, Porsha has been portrayed as a gum-chewing imbecile who does very little actual work, which, as you know, makes her the perfect candidate for a promotion.

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I guess this is supposed to be Anika’s grand plan to take down Cookie. She’s going to milk Porsha for information that she can use against her in their ongoing cold war for Lucious’s heart. Good luck with that. You are a box of powdered mushroom gravy given life and acting lessons. Every second you are on this show is a second I spend wondering how many likes I got on my Instagram photo of a tomato shaped like a butt. Her scenes make me want to throw hot coffee at my television. Outside of “rich, smart, biracial, and pretty,”Anika has no defining characteristics.

Her only role on this show is to be the icy, pretentious counterpoint to Cookie’s verbal and sartorial fireworks. It’s the TV equivalent of being a middle reliever in baseball: Keep the status quo and don’t screw up. It’s not glamorous work, but it’s necessary for dramatic balance. Still, maybe she could get a hobby or develop a limp? Start wearing silly hats? Play with a yo-yo in the background of every scene? Bring back monocles? Anything would help.


Did you know that Malik Yoba’s character is named Vernon? Do you even know what his job is at Empire Entertainment?1 Do you care? Last night, the writers gave him a handy character flaw: He’s a recovering addict.

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Vernon reminds me of another extraneous character on another hourlong soap opera: Stamper from House of Cards. Stamper was hopelessly loyal to his boss, was an expert at cleaning up said boss’s inconvenient messes, and, surprise, had a drinking problem. Be on guard, Vernon. Stamper got knocked out by a rock in the middle of the forest by another equally boring character. Maybe Andre will gently slap you at some point later this season?


Dear Michael,

I don’t think you’re going to make it.

No, you don’t have a terminal illness. No, you aren’t going to be brought down by a storm of bullets. Actually, it’s much, much worse. I think you’re getting … dumped.

I know that you’re a fictional character on a prime-time network soap opera. You are not real in any way, but that doesn’t make the sentiments expressed within this letter any less vital! I’ve observed the way in which you’ve interacted with your boyfriend, Jamal Lyon, for five episodes now, and I’m worried that maybe this isn’t going to work out. Cookie put you on blast for not being on Jamal’s level, then Jamal C-walked back into the closet on satellite radio while you were watching on your computer.

After spending most of the first few hours of the series railing against homophobia and vehemently rejecting his father’s requests that he “stop being gay,” Jamal does a complete 180 as soon as he starts sniffing success. He’ll probably tell you it “wasn’t the right time” to assert himself or that he didn’t want to “distract from the music” in whatever confrontation you have in next week’s episode, but what he’s really saying is, “You can keep the shitty apartment in Bushwick. I’m moving on up to Greenpoint!” I hate to have to be the one to tell you this, but it’s my responsibility as the foremost expert on the TV show where you live. Honestly, you didn’t do yourself any favors. Here’s a list of things you’ve accomplished in the last five episodes:

  • Make cereal
  • Play music on your iPhone
  • Order pizza
  • Offer comforting words of encouragement
  • Furrow your brow
  • Snuggle
  • Listen to music on your computer
  • Pack bags when commanded to
  • Appear distraught in public
  • Neglect to keep your million-dollar apartment clean
  • Check your phone

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Man, you love checking your phone! Maybe you’ll see the text message from your boyfriend saying his crazy high school ex is back in town and is claiming she birthed his child! Is there an emoji for that?

All I’m trying to say right now is that you should consider a fresh start. We’ll all miss the thrilling brow furrowing you did on Empire when you mysteriously get a scholarship to a prestigious culinary school in Belgium.

But as flaccid and helpless as you are, you pale in comparison to the most soul-crushingly vapid, pointless character of them all …


Was there any doubt in your mind? Fuckboi Andre was back to fuckboi’ing again this week. He gets choked out by fellow B team character Vernon, tries to end his third-act bathroom confrontation by making some idle threat in a bid to seem tough, and then lets Vernon punk him YET AGAIN on his way out the door. You’re a chump, Andre. If Lee Daniels and Danny Strong’s goal was to make Andre completely insufferable and devoid of charisma, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams!

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Andre, you are so fucking useless that I am taking you off my “Who Will Assume Control of Empire Entertainment?” league table. You’ve been relegated! As punishment, you will be inserted into a half-season arc on Nashville. If you can actually make that show interesting, you can come back.

  1. Jamal
  2. Cookie
  3. Fernando Rodney
  4. A consortium of Saudi oil barons
  5. Porsha
  6. Hakeem

Filed Under: TV, Taraji P. Henson, Courtney Love, Fernando Rodney, empire

Dave Schilling is a general editor at Grantland.

Archive @ dave_schilling