Regular readers of I Talk Telly will know that I very rarely talk about American shows, but there are certain shows that are worth talking about regardless of where they came from, and the hit FOX drama Empire is certainly one of those.
With a cast more diverse than anything we've ever seen on British television, and a storyline that week after week gets a new storyline added to it, it's no wonder that more and more I'm choosing to watch US series over the current UK offering.
Empire launched earlier this year on FOX and became the only show in 23 years to have its ratings rise for the first five episodes (in the US). Thankfully the show is about to arrive in the UK and will be shown on E4 and over the past few days I binge-watched the entire first season, and my was it worth it!
Empire is set in the provocative world of hip-hop music and follows the fictional life of a former street thug turned powerhouse music industry mogul, Lucious Lyon, played by Academy Award nominee Terrence Howard (Crash, Hustle & Flow).
Lucious, a talented artist and CEO of Empire Entertainment is diagnosed with a debilitating illness, and must choose one of his three sons; Hakeem, Jamal or Andre to become heir of his successful music kingdom.
They always say that parents shouldn't have a favourite child, but that's not the case for Lucious, whose favourite is his youngest son Hakeem, played by Bryshere Y. Gray. Hakeem may be a gifted musician, but he's also the dictionary definition of a spoiled playboy, valuing fame over hard work.
Middle son Jamal, played by Jussie Smollett, is his mother's favourite (more on her later). Jamal is a sensitive soul and musical who likes to shy away from the spotlight and tries his best to keep his homosexuality a secret.
Then there's eldest son Andre, played by Trai Byers. Andre is Wharton-educated with a brilliant mind, but lacks the charisma that Lucious believes is critical to running the company successfully despite being CFO (Chief Financial Officer) of Empire. Always one to give an alibi for his father's whereabouts, he soon learns this may not be the smartest move and slowly his love for his father deteriorates.
As Lucious prompts his sons to vie for his empire, his plans are thrown into chaos when his ex-wife, the brash and outspoken Cookie, played by Taraji P. Henson, mysteriously emerges from prison to claim her share of the business. Cookie is such a fantastic no nonsense character who's not prepared to take shit from anyone.
She's her own woman but occasionally realises that she needs her family, and it's not just her middle son Jamal, whose career she's trying to forge. As the Lyons slug it out, an emotional chess game begins that will either cause the family’s destruction or redemption. Love, war, family, sacrifice, money and music: this is the story of Empire.
Other characters in the series include Head of Empire Entertainment A&R Anika Calhoun (Grace Gealey), who is Lucious' new lady and instantly Cookie's enemy number one, the two brilliant assistants, Porsha and Becky. Porsha Taylor, played by Ta'Rhonda Jones is Cookie's assistant and Becky Williams, played by Gabourey Sidibe is Lucious' Executive Assistant at Empire Entertainment. Thankfully the two of them have been promised much larger roles in season two. Something I for one am looking forward to.
There's also a Rihanna-like singer called Tiana, who not only has a very similar name to Rihanna, but also looks an awful lot like her. Tina is told to date youngest son Hakeem as it'll be good for his career, as well as his. The reality though is rather different, and it becomes clear that their hearts belong to someone else.
Empire was created by Daniels and Danny Strong (Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Game Change) and is loosely inspired by Daniels’ real-life experiences. One thing that makes Empire stand out is its fantastic soundtrack, created by Timbaland and Jim Beanz and performed by the cast. And if you loved the music as much as I did the Soundtrack is available to purchase now and topped Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Album and 200 Album Charts in the US.
The first season boasted a pretty impressive list of guest stars including Jennifer Hudson, Mary J Blige, Cuba Gooding Jr, Gladys Knight, Raven-Symoné, Snoop Dogg, Patti LaBelle and the UK's very own Naomi Campbell, Estelle and Rita Ora.
Throughout the season it's often hard to keep up with who's sleeping with who, who's killed who and ultimately who wants a piece of the Empire. The flashbacks are very useful in getting to learn more about the Lyons family and understanding why they are the way they are today.
I wouldn't dream of giving the ending away, but I will say that the season for finally is FULL of drama and rounds the season off perfectly yet leaves you wanting more from the Lyons family. There are so many ways Empire could go from here and thankfully a second season has been commissioned, and I'm already wishing 2016 to happen for that reason
Few dramas recently have hooked me in as much as Empire did, a hook so strong that I ended up watching the entire 12-part season in under a week, no mean feat for someone with a full-time job and a daily commute into London.