Empire- (E4- 2017) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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Midway through Season 3 this dynamic series took what felt like a very extended break.  (In the UK the mid-season break is still seen as a strange thing where US viewers seem to take it in their stride).  I was very much missing it and hoped to rely on my Sky Planner to pick up on the series’ resumption to get my dose of the manoeuvrings of the Lyon family to liven up the long winter nights.  My Series Link did not pick it up and it was lucky that I caught a trailer in the ads of the only other E4 show I watch (“Tattoo Fixers”). The Sky Box let me down but “Empire” certainly hasn’t.

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I’m old enough to remember when American family dysfunction topped the television ratings over here with shows such as “Dallas” and “Dynasty” and “Empire” is the natural successor to these over-blown tales yet is rather lost here tucked away on E4.  I love this show.  It has an epic grandeur that can be seem to be almost Shakespearean at times and yet is set to a hip-hop beat.

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“Empire”  is an R&B record company owned by Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) – a former rap superstar.  Amongst his artists (they seem to come and go somewhat) are his two sons, girl magnet rapper, Hakeem and soul singer Jamal.  His older son Andre is on the board of the company.  Jamal challenges the prejudices and stereotypes of the hip-hop community by being gay (something Lucious himself is very uncomfortable with).  To add to the positivity of the programme he is played by Jussie Smollett- an out gay actor.

The heirs to The Empire – in black and white (first picture Jussie Smollett, Bryshere Y Gray and Trai Byers) (second Byers, Smollett and Gray)

The show centres on the music but it would be wrong to give the impression that you need to be a hip-hop fan to enjoy it.  In the first two series the music was produced by Timbaland and it was believed that it would spawn many chart hits as the series progressed with tracks being released quickly as had been so initially successful with “Glee”.  This didn’t happen although the music was every bit as relevant as today’s chart music.  For series three Rodney Jenkins (producer of hits for Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, The Spice Girls, Jennifer Lopez amongst many others) and songwriter Esther Dean have taken over the music duties.  The music now still has a central place yet does not appear to be quite as dominant as in the early episodes- perhaps when it was being used more as a marketing strategy.  Now there’s usually some kind of showcase or event (think the Oil Baron’s Ball on a weekly basis- Dallas fans) where the music is featured but it is the over-the-top drama which is the show’s real strength.

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Cookie and Lucious

And much of this comes from the fabulous creation that is Cookie Lyon, being played as a real tour-de-force by the formidable Taraji P Henson.  Cookie is the former wife of Lucious who took the rap and a seventeen year prison sentence when they were both dealing drugs to found Luscious’ early music career.  Now freed, Cookie wants what she feels is rightfully hers.  There has not been so much manipulation and one-upmanship since JR and Sue Ellen Ewing hung up their Stetsons.  In this resuming episode Cookie took a baseball bat to Lucious’ record label memorabilia and gold records in an attempt to get even over his latest slight.  (The trigger here was Lucious’ current wife, Anika (Grace Gealey) being promoted into a position of power for the umpteenth time.  She is incidentally, also the mother to Lucious’ youngest Hakeem’s baby and pushed Andre’s wife to her death).

Lucious’ women played by Taraj P Henson and Grace Gealey 

There’s been enough murder, treachery, catfights, staircase falls, interrupted weddings, hidden family members  and sex scandals to make Aaron Spelling weep with joy and like no other shows since the glory days of “Dallas” and “Dynasty” this is done with quality and conviction.  You could watch it to laugh at it but there’s something about the family dynamics, the big star cameo roles (Naomi Campbell, Courtney Love, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, Kelly Rowlands amongst others) and top-notch performances from the leads, and also from Trai Byers as bi-polar Andre and Andre Royo, in his best role since Bubbles in “The Wire” as Thirsty Rawlings, the Lyons’ dubious legal adviser which draws this particular viewer right in.   The good news is that Series 4 has been given the go ahead, so there’s plenty more life in this show yet.

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Empire is currently on E4 on Monday nights at 10pm.  Earlier episodes can be found on the All Four catch-up service.

Tattoo Fixers On Holiday (E4 2016)- A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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Sometimes it’s hard to explain why you choose to watch a TV show.  I’ve probably watched every episode of the two series of “Tattoo Fixers” and now we’ve got a holiday special spin-off of eight where the team do their best to cover disastrous (usually drunken) ink choices.

I’m of the generation that didn’t go for tattoos.  When I was young it was redolent of the elderly man, the hairy arm and half-faded nautical number.  I can’t really pinpoint when they started to come back into fashion (Robbie Williams’ tribal ink?) but now a sizeable proportion of under 40’s have permanent artwork on their bodies.

In the early-mid 90’s I did contemplate having something done, but I knew I would not be able to make up my mind about having some forever statement inked onto my body.  Oh, if only the Tattoo Fixers’ clients had just a modicum of my own apprehenstion – but then there wouldn’t be a programme and I wouldn’t be sat with my jaw dropped at their drunken decisions of what to have tattooed and where to have it on their bodies.

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Paisley, Alice, Jay and Sketch

One of the main reason I watch this is because I really like the Tattoo Fixers team.  Sketch, with his alarming array of inkwork, Alice (who joined the show last season) who comes across delightfully “mumsy” at the stupidity of some of the clients, Jay, a combination of hair and teeth that I can’t take my eyes off and the delightful Paisley, the receptionist, whose,  I believe, sole tattoo is a dot on one of her fingers.  Sketch, Alice and Jay would all look better  with a bit less body art but then I’m showing my age.  (Anyone watching “Naked Ambition”, Channel 4’s nude dating show where body parts are systematically revealed and the aspect most quoted as being the most attractive part of what’s on display is the inkwork?  Only the guy with the inappropriately placed elephant face has shown any remorse).

There’s a lot of remorse in “Tattoo Fixers” which has relocated for this spin-off to a holiday location not clearly specified- no doubt, one of the spiritual homes for the drunken tattoo.  However, we haven’t seen any instant repair jobs yet, no next day realisation of what they have done.  The clients here have all been living with their mistakes for some time.

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On this week’s episode (#2) we meet Jaimee, a buxom club rep with “Sideboob” tattooed on her sideboob; Lewis, whose brother inexplicably set him up with a posterior monstrosity in Thailand even being allowed by the tattooist to add his own flourishes; Sophie, who had an “eel in a heel” inked on after a drunken night in Ibiza; gay best friends Laura and Sam whose stick men they no longer felt appropriate; Danny who needed his nipple tattoo sorting (he’d had “.com” added because the tattooist said he’d do that bit for free) and Arran whose word selection would take you beyond the point of despair.  For people whose imaginations take full flight when they are drunk whilst sober they opt for a limited selection of flowers and skulls with the odd bit of “Gothic Alice In Wonderland” (it’s a new language) slipped in.  The tattooists quickly sketch their suggestions and there’s always one that is chosen whole-heartedly (I know that this is most likely a trick of the editing suite).  Most covers end up significantly larger than what they are hiding and the clients are without fail delighted in them.  “I’ll give you a few minutes to admire the detail then come over to the station to be wrapped up.” In a few cases I’d like to see a “Tattoo Fixers Tattoo Fixers” follow-up because some of them are not going to like the results when the novelty of not seeing their original work has worn off.  Although that seems unlikely as the web is awash with rumours about this show, of clients being silenced and all not being what it seems……………Come on, it’s a Channel 4 show.  To take it completely at face value would be like thinking “Come Dine With Me” is a cooking show.

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A tattoo consultation

I watch “Tattoo Fixers On Holiday” with a mixture of amusement, squeamishness, horror and occasional dismay in the human race.  The “Fixers” superhumanly patch up these lapses of judgement but even they haven’t got to the stage where they have seen it all before.  (Alice’s response to Arran’s offensive tat was priceless).  The one thing that irks me is Channel 4’s continual “coming up………….” and post advert recaps, padding out a 40 minute programme to the hour.  Can we stop doing this now please?  Who needs these recaps.  Even goldfish are  now said to have better memories than we once thought.

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Tattoo Fixers On Holiday is broadcast on E4 (Tuesdays 9 pm) and repeated on Fridays at 11.50.  Previous episodes are currently available on the All-4 catch up service.