When “Empire” arrived six years ago, it brought waves of optimism.
This would be the best of both worlds: The music would be vibrant – R-&-B, rap, pop, more – and the stories (about a record mogul, his wife and their three sons) would have a Shakespearean influence.
The pilot film had a “King Lear” reference. When Trai Byers auditioned (successfully) for the role of Andre, he and co-creator Danny Strong talked about “Hamlet.”
And now? Sure, “Empire” feels a little like Shakespeare’s scenes … but just the ones where a guy talks to ghosts or where witches cackle or where someone gets a donkey head.
In short, it keeps wandering further from reality. That will be obvious when the show, in its final season, airs its “fall finale” episode at 9 p.m. Tuesday (Dec. 17) on Fox. During a crowded hour:
The same person is held at gunpoint by three different people, each ready to pull the trigger; and
Three different couples – two of them married – have this-is-the-end arguments; and
Andre, who no longer takes his bipolar medication, keeps seeing and talking to his late half-brother. In fact, that brother is sometimes able to take over Andre’s actions, Sybil-style.
Yes, that’s a lot. Many of us can go a month without being held at gunpoint even once.
Some people might suggest we just ignore the excess. After all, soap operas are full of evil twins and amnesiacs and folks seemingly back from the dead.
But “Empire” is a show that brought steep promise. Three years ago, the Golden Globes nominated it for best drama and named Taraji Henson (shown here with Terrence Howard) the best drama actress.
And it has managed to weave great music into its stories. Even in Tuesday’s episode, there’s a triumphant moment for Alexandra Grey, the trans actress-singer who plays Melody.
Yes, the show faced a tough break when the career of Jussie Smollett imploded, taking away one of the three sons. But shows have overcome such things … and “Empire” still can.
The fall finale – ending, of course, with someone at gunpoint – sets up a long break, before “Empire” returns with its final 10 episodes next spring.
No matter what happens, it remains an interesting show and a worthy piece of TV history. But let’s hope it returns with more quality drama and fewer witches, ghosts and donkey heads.