Anyone familiar with Lee Daniels’ work will not be shocked by his recent confession to Entertainment Weekly: “I miss Dynasty.” The director of anything-but-subtle dramas Precious, The Butler and especially The Paperboy (a.k.a. Nicole Kidman Pees on Zac Efron: The Movie), lives his prime-time soap dreams with 2015’s first new TV smash, Empire.
Terrence Howard plays Lucious Lyon, a drug dealer turned hip-hop legend turned mogul (see also: Z, Jay) who needs to groom an heir to his record label, Empire, after he learns he has three years to live. His ex-wife, Cookie (Taraji P. Henson), is newly released from jail, 15 years after she took the fall during a drug bust. The result is the kind of thrilling soap-opera camp you buy a bottle of wine for. The two-hour season finale airs tonight on City and Omni at 8 p.m. ET/PT—but first, here are five things to love about prime time’s new power family.
1. Shameless stunt casting that would make Ryan Murphy blush
The overstuffed star power that overwhelmed Lee Daniels’ The Butler (Mariah Carey in a non-speaking role?!) makes Empire appointment television: cameos have already included Cuba Gooding Jr., Naomi Campbell and Gladys Knight.
2. A wardrobe flashier than RuPaul’s Drag Race
The outfit Cookie is wearing when she’s first released from prison—white fur, giant hoop earrings and a tight leopard-print dress—was what she was first incarcerated in, and apparently her style hasn’t changed much. Oversized fedoras, wild prints and an emerald sequined asymmetrical gown are, like Cookie herself, impossible to ignore.
3. A playlist-worthy soundtrack
Wherever Timbaland has been since his mid-’00s reign, his role as executive music producer proves a welcome return with R&B ballads and hip-hop anthems that could make Empire a hit-minter akin to Glee.
4. WTF sex
Lee Daniels is known for his eye-widening sex scenes, but Empire has raised the bar on bonkers banging, particularly when it comes to oldest son, Andre (Trai Byers), and his wife, Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday), who reacts to her husband’s cheating by begging, “Call me by her name,” and wearing a—brace for it—bib during a before-work BJ.
5. The hip-hop history lesson they don’t teach in school
Though Empire has been comparing itself to Shakespearean epics (Jamal even asks, “What, are we King Lear now?”), the rich history of hip hop is more directly referenced. As Howard’s Lucious says, “Our music is a narration of our people.”
Check out the video for the series’ first tune, the Timbaland-produced “No Apologies”!