A bit of the chatter surrounding Empire leading up to its second season was about the possibility of a “Cookie: The Early Years”-type spin off series. That’s all well and good, but I would like to pitch to the folks at FOX a different kind of show. Once Empire limps along in its 10th season leading up to cancellation, prepare yourself for the new crime drama: The Cookie & Anika Mysteries. After Empire finally goes under, the two rivals decide to bury the hatchet and join together to start a private detective agency. The same outfits, the same snark, but new adventures. I’ll await your call, Rupert Murdoch.
That’s how good Empire gets when the two of them are on the screen together. The writers for the show relish as much as we do the idea of letting those two trade eights in the form of insults. At least the biggest cackles that came out of me while watching this episode was hearing Cookie ask if Anika’s knees were sore, or if she had run out of lubrication as Boo Boo Kitty came back to Lyon Dynasty in hopes of helping take down Lucious, and Anika responding, with hands raised, “Alright…you’re bad, you’re bad. You’re badder than all the animals whose skins populate your wardrobe.”
Those kind of fireworks were sorely missing from the rest of the hour. And this episode should have been exploding left and right with Lucious getting out of prison and gearing up to hit back hard against Hakeem and his ex-wife. There were little sparks like the fire track that Hakeem and Timbaland performed as they hijacked the big Empire party at Leviticus. And the big moment when Lucious pulled the rug out from under Cookie and his son by signing away their prized newcomer Valentina and buying up the radio station where she was to make her premiere with the laughably named girl group Mirage a Trois.
Where was the rest of the drama? Andre trying to use the news of his wife’s pregnancy to curry favor with his dad? Boring. The flashback of Lucious’s apparently mentally disturbed mom? Strangely funny thanks to poor Kelly Rowland trying to do her best manic acting work. Lucious trying to sign Frank Gathers’ daughter to Empire with an impassioned speech? Hard to take seriously, given how Terrence Howard gets that weepy catch in his voice when he attempts to act impassioned.
That’s network dramas for you. Unless you’re a crime procedural, you’re gonna end up padding out the season by stretching out to three or more episodes what could have been wrapped up in one hour of a cable show. Not much to see here apart from Cookie dressing like a lost member of Labelle, Sway doing his best to act, and cameos from Pitbull and Timbaland. Nothing much to shout about.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste, and the author of Empire: The Unauthorized Untold Story, available in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter.