I’ve often replayed my first meeting with Lee Daniels, Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard and executive producer and creator of the “L Word” Ilene Chaiken over in my mind.
Daniels and Chaiken, two of the most gifted storytellers who are both racing toward icon status, earnestly asked this writer if after watching the pilot episode of the then unreleased “Empire,” if I, me, genuinely thought that the general audience would like this story.
At this point, a dramatic sweep of the camera in slow motion is needed to underscore the Steadi- cam POV. Moving between the crowd of invited VIPs and taste influencers, the camera pushes into a tight shot of Terrence Howard, who smiles and winks, breaking the fourth wall.
Somewhere in my head a hip-hop opera score ex- plodes as the shot snakes through the glitterati, find- ing the chatting Lee hold- ing court and spilling diamonds about the up- coming cameos and always talking about the music.
“I want to be Cookie when I grow up,” I confessed to Daniels.
He shot back, “So do I, honey. So do I.”
I’m standing next to Henson, aka Cookie, the woman and the character who has become the symbol of the “ride-or-die chick.” To wit, when a nervous publicist thought that I was spending “too much time” with the gifted thespian and balked at me asking their official photographer to take our photograph, Henson flexed her muscle—with a smile—and seconds later the photographer was going snap, snap, snap!
“I got you, girl,” said Henson. ”We know how to get things done, don’t we?” AmNews was granted access to review the first three episodes of the new season of “Empire.” I won’t spoil a single plot line, but I do suggest that you invest in Hulu Plus because you will want to rewind episode three. You’re going to play that episode on loop and take notes!
The changes in the new season will reflect some- thing that Daniels is pas- sionate about, and that’s “being able to hire talented people of color throughout the production.”
The roar of the Lyon family is back for season two, which premiered Sept. 23 on Fox. The season picks up three months after the shocking arrest and incarceration of Empire Entertainment head Lucious Lyon (Howard). You also know that the family’s plans to finalize the hostile takeover of Empire failed. Here is what’s coming up Sept. 30 with ”Without a Country” and Oct. 7 with “Fires of Heaven.”
“Without a Country” (Sept. 30): It’s Cookie’s way now, and she and her team decide to start their own small record label. To bring in new flavor and fat cash, baby mogul Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) decides to form a girl group and woos a hot Latina lead singer (guest star Becky G), proving that he can be more than just an artist. Sexually he begins to explore, but that’s not a reveal?
In a juicy cameo role, Lucious Lyon hires a new lawyer (guest star Andre Royo) and records an epic track from inside jail. It’s a bloody battle of epic wits inside the jail, and it’s a twisting surprise with a cliffhanging end— in which I bet Lucious, when he looks back, will see the move that would bite him back when he least expected. Yes, writ- ers in the writers’ room, I caught that hidden gold nugget and, like buying Apple stock in the 1980s, I’ll hold it for a while!
Now to the third episode that is a primer on how to survive if you want to be a billionaire.
“Fires of Heaven” (Oct. 7): In “Fires of Heaven,” you feel the impact of the epic film “The Godfather” where Cookie and Anika (Grace Gealey) keep their “friends close and their enemies closer.” This new posture of corporate survival requires Pitbull, who guest stars as himself. This soundtrack of intrigue has an urban Latin beat. The music in season two is going global.
Keeping the street credibility, this episode introduces a nails-hard and spirited girl from the urban diaspora who can spit and packs a loaded gun. Young Ma (guest star Bre-Z Murray) rips the cement from the crumbling streets—she’s pure talent talking about “grown up” stuff to a beat that drills deep into your soul and stays there. Young Ma is so “balls to the wall” authentic that Lucious revamps a defunct street label just for this branded hot head. Rewind. Take notes.
The Bible warns of the pitfalls of wealth in Mat- thew 19:24: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than … a rich person to get into the kingdom of God.”
I don’t think any of the Lyon family truly gives a flying fig about morality. If the Illuminati does exist, then the character Lucious Lyon is sitting, comfortably, at the table with the 1 percent—the elite who own and control every corner of the world.
Oh, Lucious, you didn’t read the fine, fine, fine print, but that’s what makes season two of “Empire” so exciting. He’s racking up his points for hell. There’s no heaven in sight for Lucious Lyon.