In my mind, the writer’s room for Empire is the most fun place to work in the world. It seems that no idea is too crazy or too over-the-top for those folks. I imagine them laughing the kind of laugh that says, “I can’t believe we’re getting away with this.” Because if you can’t roll your eyes and giggle at the caricature of a New York artist thrown into the mix, the “California Love” meets literal Thunderdome silliness of the big Hakeem/Jamal music video where the director shouts out lines like, “Remember, you’ll defeat the riot squad with your brotherly love,” and the notion of Hakeem drinking in a jazz club where he gets swept away by a Latina singing “Blue Bayou” en español, then you are truly missing out on the campy fun of this show.
I left out the best one: Lucious, for some reason, dumping Vernon’s moldering corpse in the car seat of the D.A. out to bring down his family. There is absolutely no logical reason to do it, but logic went out the window with this show long ago. We’re on one hell of a roller coaster ride, so let’s just enjoy the spins and turns Empire is going to take us on while we can.
The plot, at this point, has become something of an afterthought anyway. Or at least it’s just a skeleton for the writers to hang their most preposterous ideas and cattiest bits of dialogue on, like clothes on a scarecrow. The needle does get moved a bit for good measure. The FBI raids Empire and Dynasty, as well as Lucious’s home. Later on, Cookie lies to the D.A., insinuating that Lucious killed Bunkie over the Apex Radio deal, effectively tying up her ex-husband’s chances of securing the radio arm of his domain. And, yes, Andre, Rhonda, Lucious, and Thirsty all dig up Vernon’s body in some weird moment of family togetherness that helps bring the eldest Lyon son back into the fold at Empire.
For as much as I’m enjoying the little delights of Empire—and really, who couldn’t love Cookie and Lucious trading “grandma” and “grandpa” insults?—the show is really starting to lose me. I’m one of those annoying TV fans who actually wants to care about the people I’m watching on some level. After one full season and some change, I’m still not hooked on anyone in this show in that way. I could listen to Cookie toss off insults all the live long day, but if she walked away from this show, I wouldn’t tweet my discontent. Same goes for the music. I’m perfectly happy when the songs pop up in these episodes, but I have yet to feel the urge to go and snap up a download of any of them.
I haven’t given up on the show yet. Not to keep ringing this bell, but this is the kind of empty calories fun that we can enjoy between the protein-rich, prestige television that is all over cable TV nowadays. It makes every Wednesday feel like the cheat day for my viewing diet. And, yeah, I’m going to feel a little guilty afterwards for gulping down the sugary goodness that is the exploits of the Lyon clan and their warring musical factions. But I’m also not going to feel bad when I shake my head and laugh at it because I’m sure I’m just echoing the guffaws that Danny Strong and every member of the writing staff enjoy when they come up with a scruffy, frazzled artist insisting that Jamal show him the pain, or Cookie referring to Marisa Tomei’s lesbian venture capitalist as k.d. lang. That’s just tons of fun, y’all. So join me in enjoying this sugar high while you can.
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.