A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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?
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Themes & Topics
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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