Empire Season 2, Episode 1: Tables Turned

I fell in love with TV when I was at Stanford University. Yes, I understand that might sound crazy. But like many student athletes, I quickly realized that balancing academics and athletics can make or break you. You are in full survival mode. So how do you remain sane? Some party. Some join clubs, fraternities or sororities. Some venture off campus.

I watched TV.

After a long day of class, practice, weights, conditioning, tutorials, etc., I just wanted to shut off my brain. Television was the answer. My favorite part about unwinding after a long day was sharing my newfound “hobby” with my friends. I started watching Scandal. Then my roommate started watching it and cued in the football guys down the hall. (PSA: Real men watch Scandal) The next thing you know, we were having watch parties on a 52-inch and the game was never the same. Grey’s AnatomyModern FamilyHouse of CardsThe Walking Dead. We unofficially had an official TV Club. Think of a book club. Now substitute books for TV shows and you got it.

So I am super-hyped to share my thoughts about Empire Season 2 on The Players’ Tribune. And if you don’t like my opinion, it’s all good. Viola Davis follows me on Twitter so my life is already made. Here. We. Go.

Empire Season 1

This show is a game-changer. It is the Holy Grail of entertainment. You’re watching a TV show, but at times feel like you’re at a concert. It has the one-liners of a comedy, but the drama of a soap opera. It speaks to minorities in a way that glorifies certain positives of stereotypes while also provoking social discussion.

Season 1 made us believers. Family over everything. Here are some things that stood out:

The Lyon Family. This family is all about extremes. From Cookie spending extended time in prison while Lucious enjoys the spoils of success to the opposing sexualities of Hakeem and Jamal. Drama is simply in the Lyon DNA.

The rise of Cookie. Cookie is so different than other notable female African-American TV characters (including Olivia Pope, Aunt Viv, and Clair Huxtable). Cookie is Cookie, unapologetically. And we love it. A perfect example? Her wardrobe.

Terrence Howard has still got it. I mean, who doesn’t love that scene from Hustle & Flow where DJay is spitting “in my eyes I done seen some crazy thangs in the streets…” We see that same hustler in Lucious Lyon, but as Biggie says, “Mo money, mo problems!”

Sibling rivalry — more like sibling warfare. Even though the boys go head-to-head with super dope rap vs. R&B battles, they somehow find a way to always stick together. It is also very important to note that their battles are not nearly as lopsided as Drake vs. Meek Mill. Oh yeah, you can’t forget Andre. Poor Andre.

Twisted fates. After all of the bumps and bruises along Cookie’s road to redemption, we find out that the script has been flipped: #FreeLucious. Cookie now has her chance to really run the family empire, but surprisingly, the reins were passed down to the backup QB and underdog, Jamal. The last person we would have expected to take over the empire, did. All Jamal wanted was his father’s acceptance, now he has it and his street cred is on a hundred million. #Winning shout-out to Lee Daniels because he planted those seeds throughout the season. The pivotal moment showing this transformation was when Jamal was confronted in the recording studio by the armed robbers and did not flinch. It’s always awesome seeing David become Goliath.

Season 2, Episode 1

Holy cameos. As much as we would have liked to see Deebo come out of the bus as the big bad guy, Chris Rock definitely gave us something to talk about. But the Chris Rock Whiplash completely overshadowed the appearances of people like Al Sharpton and Don Lemon. I would have put Chris Rock on the Empire cameo roster before Don Lemon (especially given the way they caricatured Don on the episode). Chris Rock is an actor and that’s what actors do: take on roles. But regardless, shout-out to Al Sharpton because for better or for worse, he knows how to work the spotlight. If we learned anything from the extended cameo of the ageless and flawless Naomi Campbell, anything is possible on this show.

Pop, lock and drop it. One of Empire‘s signatures is that every episode has an “over the top but funny” moment. Anika pop-lock-and-dropping it for a prospective business partner was that moment in Episode 1. We would never have expected that behavior from her usual prim and proper character. She went from 0 to 100 REAL quick. And we weren’t ready. At all.

Lucious takes no L’s. The episode really started feeling like Empire toward the end of the show — when Lucious got Frank Gathers at his own game. Boss move. Do we love or hate Lucious? TBD.

Jamal takes no L’s. Looks like Jamal is taking pages out of his daddy’s playbook: Flipping the business partner against Cookie and company. Kicking the family out of his house. (Thanks to Hakeem for reminding us that it really isn’t his house. I LOL’d.) And Jamal was doing this all while taking slaps to the face — literally. He clearly not only has Lucious’ ear for music, but also Lucious’ cutthroat instincts for business.

Did y’all forget that Andre’s wife killed Uncle Vernon? Because I did. Significantly insignificant in my opinion.

“Why you look like Mr. T?” Cookie did channel a little Mr. T with her outfit. Whoever wrote that line should get a raise.

The music. I’m really looking forward to the music this season, after last season’s success. Let’s be real — we’ve been waiting for innovation like this since R. Kelly dropped the Trapped in the Closet hip-hopera. One thing I’ve found out is that there are two people in this world: people who love “Drip Drop” and people who love “Keep Your Money.” Read into that as you will.