Empire has been named a “phenomenon.” Looking at its ratings it’s hard to argue, at least within the present context of network TV viewing figures. An original series for Fox co-created by Lee Daniels and Buffy alum Danny Strong, Empire averaged around 16 million viewers an episode towards the end of its first season, having increased its audience share with each successive episode – something not seen in any new run TV show for over 6 years. The only show currently on the air with better ratings is The Walking Dead. So without zombies, how is Empire doing it?
Empire follows rap mogul Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), who upon learning he is in ill health must plan for the future of his business as his ex-wife and three sons each stake their claim to his empire. Each son has his own talents and flaws, while the recently released from prison matriarch stirs up no end of trouble. Lucious plays them against each other to figure out the deserving successor to his legacy amidst a backdrop of musical numbers and music industry dealings.
In essence, Empire is a retooling of King Lear. Its inspiration also seems to draw on more recent tales of power and family dynamics, the big and brash soaps of the ’80s such as Dallas and Dynasty. All it’s really lacking is the shoulder pads. The shifting dynamics and power-plays between family members are both a source of interest and, to be frank, trashy entertainment. It’s hardly original, but it is a entertaining piece of TV: production values are good, and the whole show has a sleek and glossy feel to it. Hip-hop is obviously present but not irritatingly so, if that isn’t your thing; the musical numbers are actually woven into the show in an effective and clever way.
The show does veer towards some increasingly far-fetched and melodramatic moments as the season progresses, topping it with new levels of excess. As such it does have the tendency to be a little grating at times, the histrionics of the family meaning a episode binge is unadvised. It’s a drama full of drama; whether that’s your thing or not will affect the show’s appeal.
THE PACKAGEOverall the transfer is as sharp and detailed as you’d expect from a recent HiDef TV production, although the image looks a little muted at times. This is mostly evident in darker scenes, but is not overly distracting.
Special features are liberally spaced across the three discs containing all 10 episodes of the first season. Perhaps the most interesting is a commentary on the pilot episode with Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, Ilene Chaikin, and Brian Grazer. There are also two featurettes; Empire: It’s in the Music looks at the ideas behind the show and how it was put together while The Empire of Style showcases the production side of the series. With such a strong musical facet to the show there are also “Uncut musical performances” included for 14 songs used throughout the first season.
THE BOTTOM LINEEmpire is big, loud, over the top, and thoroughly enjoyable as a result…in small doses. The histrionics of the Lyon family can be exhausting over time. But the entertainment value cannot be denied, coupled to handsome production values and presented in a Blu-ray set that’s sure to please fans, it’s a solid release from Fox.
Empire is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Fox on September 15th.