Doug Coutts: Empire

TV Preview: Empire | TV2, 8.45 Tuesday


By Doug Coutts

There’s a school of thought that reckons there are only seven stories and that every story ever written is a variation of one or more of them. And that goes a long way to explain the feeling of déjà vu you might be feeling while watching Empire.

The story of a musical mogul suddenly confronted by his own mortality, not to mention an ex-wife he thought was in prison for at least another 13 years, is redolent of Dallas, Boardwalk Empire and probably Gloss.

It’s based, the pundits say, on The Lion in Winter, a play and then a movie about Henry II and his three sons. The key difference here is that mogul Lucious Lyon’s (Lyon lion geddit?) sons are an accountant, a serious musical artiste and a layabout wannabe rapper, not Richard the Lionheart.

Lucious (why’s the ‘O’ in there?) has limited time due to recently diagnosed motor neuron disease and wants one of his kids to inherit the Empire empire. The accountant’s a bit boring, the middle son too clichedly gay, and the runt of the litter shows promise until the bars open. But how/who to chose?

The scene is set for machinations, manipulations and murder, all of which happen at least once before the first episode’s closing credits. It’s all been done before though – the only point of difference here is the blaxploitational/rap wrapping.

As with most US dramas, the lighting and art direction is all too clean to be believable which at least is in synch with the rest of Empire. But someone likes it – they’re already making a second series. I’m obviously not as down with the jive as I like to think.

What other critics said:

“It isn’t perfect. But it is a bold and necessary attempt to provide representation for an under-served demographic, while giving talented black actors a more prominent platform. With catchy musical interludes and the introduction of noteworthy themes including homophobia and mental health, the first episode simmered with potential and made the rest of the series an enticing prospect.” — The Telegraph.

Empire is frothy but earnest, sexy but chaste, absurd but not quite ridiculous. It’s also a drama about a hip-hop label run by former drug dealers that, because it’s on Fox rather than HBO, does not feature swearing or nudity.” — The Guardian.

“If the creative team discovers what works and what doesn’t and smooths out the dialogue tonally, Empire could become an engrossing, old-school family soap.” — Boston Globe.

Doug Coutts has had a career in and around television for close to 40 years. He spent 13 years as a floor manager at Avalon Studios before going freelance and never earning as much again. His writing has spanned TV genres — from Shortland Street dialoguery and quiz shows to documentaries and comedy — while a lengthy stint as TV reviewer in the Auckland Star earned him two mentions in Metro magazine’s Hot List and an angry letter from Jon Gadsby. You can read more of Doug (the satirist) at: Weakly Whirled News.

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