In a new analysis, one series has been declared “the most important show on TV.” The declaration is being applied to the Fox drama “Empire,” and comes from television critic Willa Paskin, writing for Slate. The show, which was a ratings smash for Fox in season one, makes its season two debut tonight.
In its freshman season, “‘Empire’ did things to ratings and audiences that network shows aren’t supposed to be able to do anymore. And now it has to do it all again,” Paskin writes.
She adds: “Since debuting last January, Fox’s prime-time soap about a hip-hop dynasty swiftly became a phenomenon, a ratings smash in an age of vanishing ratings, a buzzsaw in an era when network shows struggle to hum, a largely black production in a still largely vanilla TV environment, a careening, plot-devouring, catfight-boasting melodrama grounded in something real, and the creator of the most indelible TV diva in decades: Taraji P. Henson’s indomitable Cookie, who wears her tacky animal prints like they are a superhero costume.”
Paskin says the new season appears to be up to the challenge, “immediately settling into its groove as both an operatic piece of entertainment and, also, a form of politics.” She describes a protest scene that she says resonates within the context of a nation that has been focused on “Ferguson, Eric Garner, police brutality, a racist penitentiary system, and the Black Lives Matter movement.” The scene, she writes, works on multiple levels.
“‘Empire’ is a chronicle of the Lyons clan, a black family in America who, necessarily, is engaged with these subjects,” Paskin notes. “But ‘Empire’ is also a cultural object, one whose enormous success pierced television’s largely white status quo. (By the end of last season, ‘Empire’ was better-rated than the Super Bowl among black households: Networks will ignore this audience at risk to their own bottom lines.) By opening with a scene of protest, ‘Empire’ is both reflecting the culture and declaring its place in it.”
We encourage readers to click on the link near the top of this story to read Paskin’s full analysis.