May 24, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Empire”


In a season that was loaded with bad news for the broadcast networks, none may have been more distressing than the ratings trajectory of EMPIRE.  With all due respect to This Is Us, Empire was the last network show to provide reassurance that not just solid hits but actual blockbusters were still possible–at its peak, Empire‘s 18-49 rating was more than double the highest number This Is Us has managed so far.  But with what felt like unprecedented speed, Empire collapsed, falling more than 70% in just 2 years on the air.  Hits are so hard to come by these days that if a network can’t even count on one to maintain itself for a few seasons, what upside is left?

Some of Empire‘s plunge may have been attributable to the changing face of TV, but a big part also had to be dissatisfaction with the show itself.  Series creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, showrunner Ilene Chaiken, and the rest of the writer/producers haven’t been able to figure out a way out of the trap that is Empire‘s own genre.  Although there are other cast members, and a great many expensive guest stars (Eva Longoria, Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Demi Moore, Phylicia Rashad and Leslie Uggams in the season finale alone!), the show continues to rotate almost exclusively around five characters:  patriarch Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), his on-again-off-again ex-wife Cookie (Taraji P. Henson), and their sons Andre (Trai Byers), Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Grey), and Jamal (Jussie Smollett).  Those five constantly betray and scheme against each other, then forget everything that’s been done to them before and do it again, and after a while it becomes repetitive and their latest master plans lack all weight.

The lengthy network season doesn’t help, necessitating a lot of padding (many, many flashbacks of young Lucious and Cookie) and overplotting.  And since Empire is a show where “excess” is not a dirty word, overplotting is a mild way of describing it.  Tonight’s season finale, written by Chaikin and Co-Producer Joshua Allen, and directed by Sanaa Hamri, wound up the season’s long Las Vegas arc, which involved Lucious’s plot with Giuliana Green (Long) to open a club at one of the hotels, and Lucious and Cookie having competing shows to play there.  In the end, altogether ridiculously, it turned out that Lucious was actually plotting against Giuliana all the time, and he seized control of the new club, combined Cookie’s show with his own, and the two of them stepped down from Empire and handed the literal keys to the office to Andre.  He, unfortunately, had set into place a plot to kill Lucious, and couldn’t stop it from blowing up Lucious and his car.  None of this made any logical sense, and it all led to a twist so shameless one would like to think it was being played for comedy:  Lucious apparently woke from his coma with amnesia.

Empire feels hollow these days, and the scripts leave the hard-working actors looking foolish, as they dive into dialogue that’s hackneyed at best and comical at worst.  Even promising plots, like patrician Diana Dubois (Rashad) vowing to destroy the Lyons, are made silly when the Dubois family not only kidnaps Hakeem’s child, but does so with the cooperation of the baby’s mother Anika (Grace Byers) and instantly succeeds in blackmailing Hakeem into doing their bidding.  Uggams’s character has been turned into such a psychopath that she’s practically Hannibal Lecter, and Longoria was cast as a secretly horny Mormon gaming commissioner.

Empire is still one of the more successful dramas on broadcast TV, but another season or two of its incredibly shrinking ratings, and it will be just another marginal hour.  There’s still time to work on the problems that have been driving viewers away, if the will exists to make changes.  If there isn’t, Empire will soon be a mere colony.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."