Ratings for television phenomenon Empire slipped last week, from OMG WTF EMPIRE OWNS WEDNESDAY NIGHT to just OMG EMPIRE OWNS WEDNESDAY NIGHT. This tiny slip has brought out the haters, ready to explain why Empire isn’t pulling in the numbers. But the explanation being pointed to by gossip sites like Mass Appeal News and in comment section whispers on sites like Eben Gregory have a strange explanation: Empire got too gay.
Seriously? Too gay? The same show that featured Jamal both in bed with a lover and hooking up on top of his father’s desk during the season finale? Now it’s too gay?
And honestly, this is America NOW, not the 1950s. At the tender age of 18, Queer as Folk's Charlie Hunnam, in his own words, “was getting f–ked in the ass, completely naked on national TV, you know?” And yet, audiences still lived for his portrayal as tough guy Jax Teller on Sons of Anarchy and almost rioted after Hunnam bowed out of the starring role in 50 Shades of Grey. We’re post Queer as Folk, post Noah’s Arc, post Will and Grace, and the Supreme Court has ruled that citizens can legally wed someone of the same sex, as long as you don’t live in Kim Davis’s district. So give the “OMG it’s too gay” thing a rest.
We haven’t even hit peak gay. (Which, for the record, is when E. Lynn Harris’ Invisible Life gets picked up for a live musical like The Wiz. Look, Ashford and Simpson already wrote the music for the Apollo, it’s only a matter of time.) Even 50 Cent deleted his “y’all-ain’t-shit” gloat tweet after realizing there was a homophobic comment under the photo. So if it’s not gay plotlines taking Empire’s chokehold on Wednesday nights down to a mere throat grab, what is it?
I have 4 theories.
In a July 2015 cover interview for Allure, the luminous Taraji P. Henson had this to say about her co-star Terrence Howard: "I just know him. We trust each other." Terrence and Taraji have been rolling since the Hustle & Flow days. But she may be the only woman that feels that way—from his infamous baby wipes comments in 2007 to the recent revelations about Terryology, his interviews have grown increasingly erratic. And that's before we get to all the abuse allegations.
But don’t take it from me. Wendy Williams used her formidable platform to send a personal note to Terrence Howard, starting at 05:05:
A less sensational Hollywood Reporter article looks at Empire's numbers and comes to an interesting conclusion: The growth of traditional viewership may have dipped; but the time-shifted audience is growing.
In the key demo, that's an 18 percent hit from the previous week, but both of those drops are likely less reflective of any audience loss than they are about some of the viewers choosing to not watch the show immediately.
The premiere proved that there is a robust time-shifting audience for Empire. Last week's Empire, which nabbed a 6.7 rating among adults 18-49 and 16 million viewers on premiere night, rose to a wild 8.7 rating in the key demo and 22.5 million viewers with just three days of time-shifting.
Last year, the writers summarized viewer’s reactions to the break neck speed of the plot in four words: SLOW THE FUCK DOWN. And it did. But now I actually find myself doing other things during the episode of Empire, like using the bathroom. During the last season, you couldn't look away for one second. This season gives a lot of wine-refill, popcorn-making breaks. The one-liners are still there. Cookie is still Cookie. But the omg-how-could-you-blink-and-miss-the-art-commentary-on-the-scene feelings have mostly subsided.
Many well-loved shows start out with an interesting cast of characters who, unfortunately, become flattened versions of themselves as the seasons go on—and sometimes characters just vanish. It happened on Degrassi. It happened on Martin. It happened on How I Met Your Mother. And the cracks are starting to show with Empire. Can we really maintain strong plot lines for all of these characters? Already, the guest actors are limited to the briefest of cameos. And more to the point: Am I still going to be invested in each individual character in Season 3? Already, Hakeem is working my nerves and it's harder to cheer for Jamal if he is embracing his inner Lucious.
Clearly, everyone watching Empire is willing to suspend disbelief. Yes, I can believe that an former drug dealer with a degenerative disease can rise to the top of the record game while his family members are battling over the pecking order in the family. But I CANNOT believe that Lucious Lyon’s slick self can drop a hot track from prison without a producer working some magic on it. The writers act like they forgot we were all alive way back when Shyne dropped his album from jail—he recorded it ON THE PHONE. Wendy Williams bought the prison studio smuggling part but couldn't suspend disbelief that old-ass Lucious was still in the game.
This is where the show goes totally off the rails. To recap, Lucious Lyon, a prisoner in jail I believe for murder (I actually can’t remember why he’s in jail) has had somebody craft him a small makeshift studio inside the prison so he can record a song called “Snitch Bitch”.
Apparently, each person in his entourage is equipped with certain skill sets. For instance, the white guy who helped kill Frank Gathers (Rock) is a musician so he INSTANTLY starts playing a beat using the MIDI equipment (a 25-key MIDI controller and drum pad). Because he’s ready. Because hip hop. Because Empire. The mic is hot as I guess one of the other dudes can run the ProTools session?? These felons are really taking advantage of these programs, I tell you.
All of us are scratching our heads.
I'm going to keep watching Empire, because Cookie. And Taraji. And Jussie. Empire has managed to pull off a television coup, in part because quitting the show feels like leaving the family. And we love our murderous, backstabbing, ridiculously glamorous Lyons—so what's gay got to do with it?
Gifs via EmpireFoxTV.tumblr.com.