Don’t Worry, Jussie: For Better Or Worse, I’m Sticking With Empire
Tonight, we temporarily bid farewell to the hood soap opera, Empire, as it ends its historic run for 2015 with what promises to be a winter finale full of lies, a possible pregnancy revelation, maybe even another kidnapping or a probable untimely death. You never know what to expect with the series.
And that could be why, in its second season, the show has garnered a reputation for being all over the place.
When Jussie Smollett, who plays Jamal Lyon on the show, spoke on that backlash, he said he could understand why some might have fallen off of the bandwagon.
“They have something to compare it to now. But this isn’t a show about happy endings. It’s messy and wild and emotional and complicated and f–ked up but it’s worth the ride. It will pay off. Don’t stop watching.”
When Empire came on the scene in January, nobody could have foreseen the impact that the Lyon dynasty would have on television. With a cast led by the magnetic Taraji P. Henson and the spellbinding Terrence Howard, Empire quickly took television audiences by storm. Each week, the Lee Daniels-created show upped the ante with plot twists, musical guests, and murder, and each week the ratings rose and rose. Much to the surprise (and low-key dismay) of network executives and naysayers who could not believe that a show with a Black cast and a less than polished and pristine plot could attract so much attention. The show was renewed for Season 2 almost immediately after it aired and by the time its 10-episode run concluded in mid-March, the Empire effect was in full force. Network heads were scrambling to find their Empire, a.k.a., a show featuring Black leads, that would hopefully procure major ratings.
And that’s why I will be a loyal viewer of Empire until the show takes its final breath. It’s hard to guess where they can go from here, but that’s what comes with doing a soap opera of any kind. Every week you have to out drama yourself to keep the viewers on their toes.
No matter how ridiculous the storyline, no matter if the season returns with Lucious having an evil twin or Cookie becoming the mayor of Philly with Usher serving as her chief of staff, the show has my allegiance. Because of Empire and its success, this fall, over 73 TV pilots were featuring or co-starring Black performers. This is unheard of in the new millennium. Writers of color were given opportunities to pitch projects, and TV writing and directing staffs featured more people of color than ever before. Empire was a game changer.
While Empire’s Season 2 ratings have not been anywhere near as stellar as they were earlier in the year, as of last week, the show is still bringing in 11 million viewers a week, which is still pretty big as far as Fox is concerned. Though the guest star situation has been laughably terrible this time around (Rosie O’Donnell, Chris Rock, and Ludacris took all the suspension out of my belief), and the storylines have been hurried (seriously, Hakeem was kidnapped and safely returned within like 20 minutes), I still love the fact that I can tune in and watch Black people of all moralities, shapes, sizes, and colors do their thing. I mean, I damn near applauded when they gave Gabourey Sidibe a love scene. That was a powerful, bold statement that needed to be made, and Empire had the guts to show the world that people of all sizes and colors get love too.
The Black TV revolution is upon us, and I, for one, am rejoicing. Not since the late ‘90s when Black faces could be seen on every channel, have we experienced such a beautiful barrage of people of color entertaining us on TV. I turn on the tube, and I see people who look and talk like me on almost every channel (side-eye to CBS) and it makes me beam with pride. So, despite the rollercoaster ride their shows can sometimes take us on, I salute Lee Daniels, Shonda Rhimes, Kenya Barris, and all the other showrunners leading the way and advancing diversity on TV. For better or worse, through the dramatic ebbs and flows of the series, Empire will always have a viewer in me.