The meteoric rise of “Empire” was the TV story of last season — restoring network TV’s reputation as a place where viewers could go for exciting quality entertainment after years of decline.
Debuting in midseason with 13 episodes — and pulling in huge numbers, which grew each week — “Empire” was quickly renewed and given a slot on the fall schedule. Fox also increased the show’s number of episodes this season to 18.
But the rush to Season 2 may have hurt “Empire.” Four episodes in, it has become predictable and stuck in dramatic second gear.
In short, the excitement that made “Empire” can’t-miss TV is gone.
“Empire” is still drawing big numbers (12.2 million for Wednesday night’s episode). And all the elements that distinguished it from your average prime-time soap are still there: the extended musical performances, the loud fashions and the industry-insider feel. But last month’s season premiere included a dramatic about-face so inconsistent with what had already happened that it was easy to see that “Empire” was beginning to get away from itself. We’re talking about the final scene, when Jamal (Jussie Smollett) — the gay underdog son who found a champion for his musical ambitions in another underdog, his mother, ex-con Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) — slammed the door in her face, shutting her out of Empire records. Which was now up and running, thanks to her efforts.