MaHB / TV: Melodrama Killed The TV Star

Esquire Malaysia, February 2016

Empire

Melodrama Killed The TV Star
What this Empire needs: less soap opera, more hip-hop.

By Sophia Goh

Have you watched Empire lately? Because it’s not great anymore. I was a huge fan of the show’s first season, and along with many others, was quick to cry foul when it didn’t get nominated for a best drama series Emmy. Now, with the second season well underway, I’m wondering if last year might have been its best shot.

I know it seems premature and a bit harsh, but I’m surely not the only one who’s noticed that the Empire of today is less powerful Lyon and more petty catfight. Somewhere along the line, Luscious Lyon got a little less charismatic, Cookie got a little less interesting, and don’t even get me started on those sons of theirs – talented they might be, but they’re also starting to get on my nerves. What is happening?

The answer: nothing that hasn’t happened before. In the same way that so many movie sequels fall flat, it’s pretty hard to replicate a second season (let alone a third, fourth, you get the idea) of TV awesomeness. Empire’s first season was refreshing and groundbreaking in many ways, but you can only be groundbreaking once. After that, you’re just trying to live up to expectations. And to be fair, expectations for the show were very high.

One of Empire’s strengths from its first season was the way it combined soap opera levels of drama with great writing and a solid plot. Unfortunately, when the dial is already turned up that high, it’s impossible to take things up a notch without going overboard. The line between sensational drama and unnecessary melodrama is a difficult one to navigate, and if the writers are struggling (and buckling) under the pressure to equal, if not top, last season, who can blame them?

Empire needs to turn things around – and fast. I for one would love to see that happen because I think Lee Daniels and Danny Strong really have something special on their hands. Also, I would like to take this opportunity to publicly appreciate all the long-running TV serials out there, because I’ve been reminded of how much harder it is to stay successful than it is to get there in the first place.

If it’s any consolation, Empire is not alone. Downton Abbey is a notable example of a wonderful show that took an unfortunate turn for the melodramatic, as is Nashville. Last year I came awfully close to quitting Suits, and unless Shonda Rhimes is able to inject a fresh element or three, even Scandal is in real danger of overstaying its welcome. All these being a matter of personal opinion, of course.

Unlike your daytime soaps that seem to last forever, a primetime hit TV series can only ride on dramatics for so long before audiences tire of it. And maybe it’s just my advancing age and the increasingly hectic schedule that comes with raising a human being, but melodrama for the sake of it just doesn’t cut it anymore.

If I’m going to watch a TV drama, it had better be a damn good one that makes it worth the time. Otherwise, with so much real life bad news in the world already, I find myself increasingly drawn to an easy sitcom and a good laugh. Empire was definitely one of those shows that made the cut initially, but if I’m to make it through this season (and stick around for a potential third), it’s going to take more than just Cookie cutter melodrama. See what I did there?