Em­pire is built around Cookie but she’s not the only scene-chew­ing mon­ster

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - PATRICK FREYNE - PA­TRICK FREYNE

Em­pire ( Tues­day, E4) is a Tim­ba­land-sound­tracked hip-hop soap opera, or if you pre­fer, hip-hopera, formed in the same frothy caul­dron of high camp mu­si­cal­ity as Nashville and Glee.

Ter­rence Howard plays Lu­cious Lyon, not an ac­tual lion, which would be awe­some, but a se­cretly dy­ing, cra­vat-wear­ing mu­sic mogul who will leave his “em­pire” to one of three sons – party-boy rap­per Ha­keem, sweet, tal­ented black­sheep Ja­mal or busi­ness-like schemer An­dre – as long as one of them can find the mys­te­ri­ous jade monkey/oth­er­wise prove their wor­thi­ness.

Lu­cious’s plans are com­pli­cated by his ex-wife, the glam­orous, sharp-tongued Cookie, just out of pri­son for crimes she most def­i­nitely com­mit­ted. In fact, she com­mit­ted them with Lu­cious and now wants to take half of his “em­pire”. Her tac­tic for do­ing this in­volves barg­ing into var­i­ous board­rooms, man­sions and loft-apart­ments to throw dev­as­tat­ing shade.

Cookie is bril­liant. She also shares a name with one of my favourite ever tele­vi­sion char­ac­ters – Cookie Mon­ster. And the similarities don’t stop there.

Both Cookie and Cookie Mon­ster are fab­u­lous di­vas who know what they want. Cookie Mon­ster wants cook­ies. Cookie wants “what’s mine” (what’s “hers” isn’t spec­i­fied at this point, but it’s pos­si­bly cook­ies).

Cookie is for­ever storm­ing into rooms de­mand­ing “what’s mine”. Cookie Mon­ster can’t storm into rooms be­cause he has no legs, but he looms up from be­hind a wall de­mand­ing cook­ies . . . which I think you’ll agree is es­sen­tially the same mo­tif.

Like a town plan­ner, Cookie is ob­sessed with “the street” (“The streets ain’t made for every­body,” she says ex­cel­lently in this episode. “That’s why they made side­walks”). Cookie Mon­ster is also ob­sessed with “the street”, although he’s specif­i­cally talk­ing about Sesame Street.

Both Cookie and Cookie Mon­ster talk about them­selves in the third per­son.

Both Cookie and Cookie Mon­ster are cov­ered in ex­quis­ite fur.

Any­way, Cookie is a cat-fight-in-aswim­ming-pool away from be­ing as icon­i­cally amaz­ing as Cookie Mon­ster and/or Alexis in Dy­nasty. In this week’s episode, she takes con­trol of Ja­mal’s ca­reer be­cause Ja­mal is gay and Lu­cious Lyon is hor­ri­bly ho­mo­pho­bic. Lu­cious Lyon doesn’t want Ja­mal play­ing at his new club be­cause: “I’m not go­ing to have it branded a ho­mo­sex­ual club.” This is un­likely re­ally, as the club is called Leviti­cus, named af­ter the most ho­mo­pho­bic book of the bi­ble.

Lu­cious Lyon has other prob­lems. One of his big­gest sign­ings, Kid Fo-Fo (pre­sum­ably the Godzuki-like side­kick of “Adult Fo-Fo”) has be­come em­broiled in a shoot­ing scan­dal. His el­dest son An­dre is a power-hun­gry busi­ness-suit who nar­rates evil plans to his ne­far­i­ous wife. An­dre also has men­tal- health is­sues and re­cently, his ne­far­i­ous wife tells him, he’s be­gun sleep-talk­ing about him­self in the third per­son (like mother, like son, I guess). His ne­far­i­ous wife tells him to take his med­i­ca­tion.

And oh, I nearly for­got, last week Lu­cious shot his old­est friend Bunky in the face (Bunky was plan­ning to out him as “noth­ing but a punk-ass gang­ster”).

Lu­cious is so busy he’s largely not wor­ry­ing about last week’s mur­der. In­stead he’s fo­cused on launch­ing Ha­keem’s ca­reer with a big con­cert at Leviti­cus that Cookie wants for Ja­mal. All Ha­keem has to do is not mess things up. So Ha­keem goes to a fancy restau­rant, wees on the floor and makes a YouTube video about how Barack Obama is “a sell-out”.

Barack Obama is a sig­nif­i­cant off-screen char­ac­ter in Em­pire. Lu­cious gets him on the phone to apol­o­gise for Ha­keem, C3PO-ing Barack’s un­heard dia­logue like Obama is a pres­i­den­tial R2D2. “Come on Barack, you know you don’t have to use this kind of lan­guage,” says Lu­cious, hope­fully pre­fig­ur­ing fu­ture episodes in which he says: “Now, now Barack, don’t bomb Rus­sia” or “But Barack, a zep­pelin ex­pe­di­tion to Per­sia is mad­ness it­self.”

Some view­ers (and one char­ac­ter) have com­pared Em­pire’s plot to King Lear. This makes sense, I sup­pose, in the same way it does to com­pare Break­ing Bad to Mac­beth or He-Man to Ham­let. But Em­pire is re­ally the lat­est en­ter­tain­ing it­er­a­tion of a TV-only genre of post-ironic melo­drama that’s si­mul­ta­ne­ously deathly se­ri­ous and eye­brow-arch­ingly self-aware.

While Em­pire is high-con­cept, high-speed tele­vi­sion, over on BBC 4 they’re go­ing “slow”. This means a week of doc­u­men­taries with­out mu­sic or voiceovers, in which cam­eras lov­ingly frame sleepy sub­urbs to the sound of bird­song ( The Dawn Cho­rus, Mon­day) or linger over footage of a man build­ing a chair, roughly in real time ( Hand­made:

Wood, Wed­nes­day). Once you get used to the idea that Joey Es­sex isn’t go­ing to smash through the win­dow and accidentally nail him­self to the wall, or that the birds aren’t com­pet­ing for a record con­tract, this is lovely mes­meris­ing stuff.

Watch­ing Wood, in par­tic­u­lar, I sink into a trance. Sadly, I don’t look at the car­pen­ter ham­mer­ing and saw­ing and think: “In a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic world, I could use those tools to make a chair.”

No, I think “in a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic world I could use those tools to make some­one else give me a chair.” And I’m pretty sure that’s what both Cookie and Cookie Mon­ster would do, the big di­vas.

Cookie and Cookie Mon­ster are fab­u­lous di­vas who know what they want. Cookie Mon­ster wants cook­ies. Cookie wants ‘what’s mine’ (pos­si­bly cook­ies)

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