We’re Not Mad at Empire But…

I get it.  I get it.  Some folks wish Empire would just fall into a deep, dark Hollywood hole.

The main character , Lucious Lyon, is a slimy drug dealer-tuned-slimier record mogul.    His ex-wife Cookie is a loud, perpetually turn’t ex con who went to jail to protect Lucious, but apparently didn’t engender the same loyalty. One of their sons, Jamal, is an extremely likable Frank Fake Ocean type, nevertheless ticking off some audiences who shun the so-called “gay lifestyle and don’t want to see it on TV.  The youngest, Hakeem, is an obnoxious hybrid of Chief Keef and Lil’ Wayne with the face of Moesha’s little brother.

With Hakeem’s constant bragging, boozing and at least one Justin Bieber-like instance of public urination, I’m sure he reminds us of some of the radio rappers we like the least.

The oldest (and finest), Andre, is a ruthless business wiz who has a Lady Macbeth-like wife and is, as of episode #2 anyway, bipolar.

Yeah, “A Different World” or “Frank’s Place,” it’s not.

Still, in its pioneer episode, it did seem that we were being set up to see much more depth in these characters.  The second outing, well, that wasn’t as enthralling.  So because I want to see this project by, and featuring, African Americans excel, check out some of my humble opinions on five things “Empire” could improve upon, now that we’ve seen episode three.  (Don’t cut me, Cookie-lovers):

1.  Bump up Malik Yoba’s role/presence.

Yo, that is Malik Yoba, aka Mr. New York Undercover.  His main job should not be to gasp at Cookie’s outrageous comments and/or hold her back from fighting other people and vice versa.  Give this man the meaty role he so richly deserves.  And some of that might be possible if you follow our second tip, which is…

2.  Whittle down the character list. Just a touch.

The only other program I can think of with this many people on camera at the same time is the Duggars’ reality show.  As a result, my sister and I have counted approximately four to five lines per person if you aren’t Cookie or Lucious.  That significantly reduces the impact any one person can have and leads to confusion.  Can’t y’all layer this a little bit?  I know you killed Bunky, but that hardly winnowed down this Wu-Tang sized crop o’ actors.

3. Free Gabourey Sidibe

Or give her, like Malik, a better role.  This Oscar-nominated actress is so much better than that platinum blonde ‘do and the ragged assistant job she has been given.  I realize she has been freed of her “American Horror Story” duties for now.  Though that role on “Freak Show” as Dandy’s former playmate was also thankless, if I were Gabs,  I’d sooner go back to the FX set and see if they can write me back in than continue this half-scene per show average on “Empire.”

4.  Cool off some of the ignorance.  Just some.

Not all.  I understand respectability politics should not completely paralyze the hand of the scribe and Tony Soprano, Walter White and Stringer Bell cannot be written off as mere villains.   Yet, the second episode of Empire featured public urination, a truly stupid diatribe against President Barack Obama, a subsequent embarrassing fake apology by Lucious to Obama, and several instances of Cookie shrieking like a banshee.  It was a clear case of doing too much.  I was embarrassed and that is saying something, as my job requires me to also watch Real Housewives of Atlanta.  Ratchetry is the new elegance, but even it should be sprinkled lightly.  Cookie has the most nuance of anyone else on screen, but her current setting is a little high.  She could stand to vary some of this side eye, shouting and jostling with the other tools in her arsenal.

5.  Bring more life to Lucious.

Terrence Howard does slimy very well, but he is not as convincing as this powerful manager-beating, sidekick-killing monster.  We should know this from his ineffective performance in Iron Man.  He is frightening, but more in a poison-your-pina-colada way…not a shoot-you-in -the-eye way.  While I could totally see 50 Cent, Jay-Z and even Diddy beating the stuffing out of industry colleagues, I actually believe Cookie could whup Lucious’ tail if she so chose.  Therefore, maybe he of the ever-trembling voice should leave the violence alone and stick to sneering and sniveling.  Further, it seems that Howard himself is a little bored with his role.   Maybe if he can leave the physical aspects be and focus on mind controlling pimp-o-sity, he will be better served.

What do you think?  Is Empire perfect as it is or do you have some suggestions for Scandal’s heir apparent?