Can't Touch This
by DICK CHENEY
creator Lee Daniels & Danny Strong
The moustache of Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) resembles a meaty little caterpillar. He loves his sons. He loves music. He loves a nice mug of cocoa at night. He loves rap music, R & B music. He loves his gay son, his impatient son. He loves his ex-wife Cookie (the completely perfect Taraji P. Henson) and offers her a salary of three million dollars per year after she is freed from her 17-year stay in prison. She demands five.
Other people might have a tough adjustment period after such a lengthy time in jail, but this is no problem at all for Cookie. Every scene she is in fills me with a vigor I have not felt since the early 1950s. Throughout her time in the big house, Cookie focused on the positive side of her incarceration - when it was over, her ex-husband would be giving her three million dollars a year.
It is unclear whether or not Howard harassed Cookie like he did all his wives IRL, but I would expect he did not, since she only hurls the mildest of insults at his Cayman-Islands-born current squeeze. Back in their early days in Philadelphia, Cookie and Lucius used to sell drugs. Empire depicts these scenes in a grainy flashback where the principals involved are all wearing hats to make them look substantially younger. Empire was already off the rails by its first episode when Howard put a bullet in his bodyguard for daring to refer to him as a thug.
It is unclear why all the super-talented people involved in Empire would want to make such a ridiculous soap. My heroes Lee Daniels, Ilene Chaiken and Timbaland are all heavily involved in Empire, and yet there is not only not a hero of any kind in this ludicrous setting, some of the heroes are murderers.
The actual subject matter of the show is the frighteningly trivial music industry. "This magazine cover makes it seem like they poached him!" Howard squeals about an artist they let go because of irreconcilable differences. It is impressive he is able to focus on business given that a doctor has given him only three years to live, the most unlikely diagnosis in the history of television.
The best thing about Empire is the new musical talent the show introduces, and the numbers they perform. They probably should have made Empire even more of a musical - two or three songs an hour isn't enough with the talent available to Timbaland. The Terrence Howard music videos are perfect in every way from a satirical point of view:
Serayah McNeill and Jussie Smollett as Howard's gay son are both utterly amazing singers and performers, and the rest of the cast is filled with serious talent and ability. It's a shame that Gabourey Sidibe is wasted on the thankless role of Howard's secretary, but at least she is portrayed as capable and intelligent. If you see a bad actor on this show, you can be relatively sure they will be killed off by the end of the episode.
Well, except for Howard's son Hakeem (Bryshere Gray), who is the spoiled one. He never learned how to act, he never visited his mother in jail and he constantly initiates scenes where three or four people in sequence scream "Don't touch me!" All is forgiven though, as his interest in older women means the show will feature deep morning-after conversations between a 20 year old and Macy Gray. I cannot even tell you how long I have been waiting for this.
In one scene, Hakeem pulls out his penis in a restaurant. The white patrons are so disgusted that they stand up and leave the premises. As he lectures them about their hypocrisy, he launches into a lengthy, detailed critique of the Obama administration. There are other forms of protest besides walking down the street. Complaining on the internet, for example.
One of the best things about Empire is how even in its ridiculousness it displays the full spectrum of how black people are different from one another. Some of the black actors on Empire have Latin American or European backgrounds, others feature different ancestry; many are personal friends of Timbaland, and in a few select cases, Justin Timberlake.
Empire shows how reductive broad labels are in the obvious face of meaningful differences in class, gender and geography. Being African-American is not determinative, it cannot mean only one thing. A single token person can never represent an entire ethnic group, unless that person is Rosie Perez.
Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.