Empire

TV review by
Kari Croop, Common Sense Media
Empire TV Poster Image
Musical melodrama explores family, fame, and homophobia.

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 6 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Although the overarching themes include fame, corruption, and revenge, there's a sense of balance in the other themes explored -- for example, looking at both homophobia and acceptance, ambition and cooperation, and deceit and honesty.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main characters are complex, so it's hard to pin them down as wholly "positive" or "negative," as most are a little of both. On the whole, however, the series breaks new ground when it comes to the types of African-American characters typically seen on mainstream television and seeks to broaden the definition of what topics a "black show" should or shouldn't tackle.

Violence

Beatings, shootings, with some blood; more is suggested than shown.

Sex

Characters kiss and make out, and sex is suggested but not shown; some shots of lingerie and other skimpy clothing; one of the main characters is gay and in a healthy relationship but struggles to gain acceptance from his father.

Language

Audible words include "damn," "ass," and "bitch," plus some homophobic slurs such as "faggot" and "sissy."

Consumerism

Sponsorship/promotional tie-ins with Pepsi, Lincoln, and other brands.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Social drinking with some cigarette smoking; secondary characters use drugs, and several main characters sold drugs in the past; visible drug paraphernalia.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Empire centers on the dysfunctional family of a successful music mogul who's preparing for one of his sons to take over the business. His middle son is gay and in a steady, loving relationship, and his sexuality -- and his father's problem with it -- is a major story line, so you'll hear homophobic slurs such as "faggot" and "sissy" along with other audible language such as "ass," "bitch," and so on. Several characters drink and use drugs, and some have sold drugs in the past. Violent content includes beatings and shootings with some blood, although it isn't gratuitous, while sex is implied but with nothing more than making out shown on-screen.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byCaK1Princess February 26, 2015

Greatest Season Premier

Love the music & diversity, but not sure if I'd want my 16 or under watching? But I'm obsessed with this new season 1 premier.
Parent of a 14 and 17 year old Written bymoby March 2, 2015
Teen, 14 years old Written byangelsmokey124 January 25, 2015
Teen, 13 years old Written byThat_Fleet_Girl June 13, 2015

Great show!!!

This show is absolutely AMAZING!!! I give it five stars!!! The drama is so fascinating and how they are a family business makes the drama even more tense. If yo... Continue reading

What's the story?

At the height of his professional career, EMPIRE Entertainment's chief executive, Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), rounds up his three sons -- Andre (Trai Byers), Jamal (Jussie Smollett), and Hakeem (Bryshere Gray) -- and announces he'll be grooming only one of them to take the reins when the day finally comes. But as the brothers begin jockeying for position, Lucious' unpredictable ex-wife Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) shows up after nearly two decades in prison and demands her fair share of the business that her money and discerning ear built.

Is it any good?

When former-thug-turned-music-industry-exec Lucious Lyon tells his sons he'll be hand-picking one of them to take over when he's gone, his middle son Jamal asks, "What is this? We 'King Lear' now?" But if you're paying attention, that rhetorical question, said in passing, offers an important clue to the epic nature of Empire's intentions and the major themes the series aims to explore, among them power, greed, and sibling rivalry. It's certainly not the first time Shakespeare has inspired a mainstream television plot, but it might be the first time it's been applied to the world of hip-hop, and the results are both soapy and solidly entertaining.

Created by Oscar-nominated film director Lee Daniels (Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, Lee Daniels' The Butler), Empire shines equal light on the grit and glamour of hip-hop culture and simultaneously raises some provocative questions, particularly about homophobia in the black community and whether an openly gay African-American artist could ever be a mainstream success. But it also keeps things light with a strong original soundtrack by Timbaland that likely will appeal to older teens, and the great thing is, the content is largely OK for them.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Empire's portrayal of what it's like being gay in the African-American community. How accurate are the characters' experiences? What's the show's point of view when it comes to homophobia and intolerance? And do you think the series could spark more positive conversations about gay acceptance, particularly within families?

  • Show creator Lee Daniels has described Empire as a "black Dynasty." Does the series break any new ground when it comes to African-American characters -- and African-American stereotypes -- on television? Who's the intended audience, and how does it fare as a family pick?

  • What elements does Empire have in common with King Lear, the Shakespearean tragedy it references? How have the writers modernized the classic tale for today's media-savvy consumers?

TV details

Themes & Topics

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