The second season of Fox’s smash hit television series Empire will feature themes of police brutality and the BlackLivesMatter movement more prominently, according to this month’s Hollywood Reporter feature story on the show.
The cast, producers and creators of Empire spilled details on the new season to the magazine in a massive feature about the show’s “‘batsh*t crazy’ behind-the-scenes drama.’
The team behind Empire has good reason to be optimistic about the upcoming season, which premieres September 23: the show has been a ratings behemoth for Fox. At the conclusion of its first-season run earlier this year, Empire earned the distinction of being the first television show in 20 years to increase its viewership week-over-week for the entire duration of a season. The season finale was seen by an estimated 21.92 million people.
Empire follows hip-hop mogul Lucious Lyon and his fresh-out-of-prison wife Cookie Lyon as they navigate the pitfalls and drama of the music business alongside their three sons. The show’s success has been so great that there is already talk of a spinoff (series creator Lee Daniels has basically already confirmed “it’s coming”) and a Glee-style concert tour featuring cast members.
But before all of the spinoffs and accessory tours, the second season promises to deliver more of the soap opera-style twists and drama that made the first season such a hit.
“We’d be cowards if we dealt with something like pop music and pop culture and we didn’t deal with the things that are going on in our world today, whether it’s mental illness, homophobia, racism, classism, sexism or police brutality,” Jussie Smollett, who plays Lucious Lyon’s gay son Jamal on the show, told THR.
According to the magazine, Daniels wanted to emphasize a “wider range of the African-American experience” in Empire‘s second season, and so brought more black writers into what was already one of the most diverse writer’s rooms in television (Daniels previously said he “hates white people writing for black people” in TV shows).
“There’s been an appetite for a long time for network television to do something different,” one of those writers, Ayanna Floyd, who previously worked on Hannibal and Private Practice, told THR. “And black people, in particular, love to see themselves on television because they don’t see themselves a lot – and this wasn’t about seeing yourself in a way that makes you feel bad about yourself. It’s not a slave movie. They’re rich, they’re glamorous, they’re complicated…”
Also on tap for Empire’s second season: a veritable who’s-who of guest stars, including Chris Rock as a cannibal, Lenny Kravitz, Ludacris, Pitbull, Marisa Tomei and Rosie O’Donnell. The Rev. Al Sharpton and CNN’s Don Lemon reportedly make cameos in the season’s first episode.
While Daniels told the magazine he is trying to tamp down his own expectations for the show (“I don’t [buy the hype] because the hype told me I was getting [an Oscar] nomination for The Butler), Fox TV Group chairman Dana Walden is likely salivating at the prospects of viewership totals for Empire‘s second season.
“For so long, we’ve had conversations that have ranged from challenging to unproductive with various creative partners about the value of having our shows reflect the audience that watches television,” Walden told THR. “The result is that you can have a big, fat hit.”
Check out the rest of THR’s feature story on Empire here.