“Empire”

Taraji P. Henson, female lead in “Empire.” Photo by The Heart Truth (Taraji P. Henson) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

by,

Suzanne Coleman

 

HIT.

I think it was obvious from the ads for this new show on FOX, but after seeing it last night, it was confirmed for me:  yes, it’ll be a hit- as long as they continue to produce shows like the one they did for the premiere.

The characters are very real-to-life, so, it was a success in that aspect; they were played well and had good depth.  The music was fun, and some of it was good.  The synergy between the two brothers in composing a musical piece together was excellent.  The relationships that they are establishing are intricate and the indications of future conflicts should keep things interesting for an above-average viewer.  Being scheduled right before the huge hit “Nashville” (ABC, 9pm CST) is a good position as both shows are very similar, and yet very different, studies on a musical sub-culture in American society.  Above all, the drama and characters of “Empire” are very strong.  The cinematography is of high quality as well, with good color, depth, and lighting.  Plus the show offers stimulating visuals in the fashion choices of the lead female character, and the scenes set in expensive mansions and other amazing locations will draw in viewers just to see how the other-half (of a percent) lives.

There was one thing which I found interesting (which you may or may not appreciate, depending on which cultural groups you are or are not a part of).  The show had a young black male in the rap industry from the background which the writers have developed for him and his family which clearly identifies which cultural group they are a part of, say to another black male of his same background “the n-word” instead of actually saying “nigger” which is what he would have most likely said in the real world.  It was pretty awkward to watch, and I’m sure that if there were any black men or youths watching in Chicago that there was some discussion over that decision on the part of the director.  Then, they later say “faggot” which is an equally taboo word in current American society.  Why one and not the other?  It seems that there was some type of agenda behind their choices, and maybe it will become more obvious as the show progresses.  I’d be very interested to know what the director was thinking when they made that decision.  I can guess but I’d like to hear what they have to say about it.

Going forward, this production will need to watch the line between offending or disturbing people too much, and staying within what is socially-acceptable.  I have seen several shows that had high potential to be successful fail, simply because they crossed this line.  “Outsourced” was one.  It was a great show, with funny writing and acting, but they crossed over the line into socially-unacceptable and offensive.  This ended the show.  They didn’t seem to realize the error of their ways (maybe they should have hired a consultant?) and when they had the chance to recover, they continued down the wrong path and lost their airtime.  Other shows have followed the same path.  I say, know your audience.  While some might go for this behavior, if it’s only a minority of your viewers, and the others will turn off the show, then, you need to decide if you want to continue or not, and under what terms.

The cold-blooded murder of the traitorous childhood acquaintance was one possible line crossed on “Empire.”  The abuse of the main character’s son was another.  These were both very real, and I mean very real as in this type of stuff happens in the real world, all of the time.  They gave the show grit, character and shock value.  But too much shock would probably send people away.

The choice of using or not using socially questionable words is another tricky spot.  Do you speak the way you would in the real world?  Or do you choose not to, which might avoid offending some people, but at the same time would lessen the reality of the experience?

Personally, I’m hoping the show continues to have the high quality of writing, directing and acting it did in the first episode.  I am excited to have this series on TV.  Hopefully it will watch those lines, keeping its viewers in mind, while still maintaining the freedom to express reality and to challenge any concepts it would like to challenge.  Great productions are more and more rare these days, and as a lover of TV, music, and culture I’m ready to get pulled into this one.

 

 

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