Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Empire Season Two Review

For those of you that are bored with your daytime soaps, I strongly suggest checking out Empire: The Series (www.empiretheseries.com). The little web soap aired its second season finale tonight, and I thought I'd take a few moments to give my thoughts on the show's excellent run so far.

Season Two of Empire was like the second seasons of Dynasty and Knots Landing in that we had scheming interlopers connected to the rest of the canvas in dynamic ways (think Joan Collins and Donna Mills). In this case, we had Guiding Light stars Tina Sloan and Orlagh Cassidy join the cast as Theodora Grant Haven and Colleen Lively. Sloan's Theodora schemed her way into the family fortune while Cassidy's Colleen desperately tried to gain fame (or infamy) through exploiting her troubled teenage daughter Lucy (played by promising newcomer Afton Boggiano). Colleen and Lucy brought new depth to the show as Marin's (Kate Forsatz) mother and sister, adding a fun second family to the show.

Ryan Clardy (who we interviewed a few weeks back!) had more to do as Cane Haven, the gay black sheep of the Haven family, finding himself the unwitting guardian of last season's underage hooker Jake (Toby Levin). We also met Cane's boyfriend, Alex (Fabio Tallercio), a nice guy with a slightly insincere edge. Also expanded were the roles of Haven patriarch Cubbie (Richard Flight) and matriarch Sandra (Kathryn Neville Brown), as Sandra took desperate measures to hold on to the ideal life she wanted with her husband and kids. Cute, sweet maid Katherine Valentine (Annalisa Derr) also found herself thrust onto the front burner in a story too fun to spoil.

Not faring so well this season were last season's pivotal players, Marin, Thomas (Chris Douros) and Evan (Nick Lewis). Last season's central love triangle, this story absolutely fizzled this year with Thomas spending most of his time in jail and Marin and Evan's romance falling flat. Without having Thomas around to bother Evan and control Marin, the story felt forced, labored and an afterthought to the fun stories going on around them.

The highlight of the season, in my opinion, was the rivalry between Sandra and Katherine. Though Annalisa Derr often slips into camp, she and costar Kathryne Neville Brown had crackling chemistry in their scenes and perfectly summed up what Empire is - a fun, frothy, campy soap that aims to simply entertain. The season finale was fun, too, although the acting in the funeral scene (not saying who died! You'll need to watch for yourself) needed to be reeled in a bit. Make sure you watch past the credits for a fun final twist.

All in all, I give Empire: The Series' second season a B. It's still rough around the edges, with the acting occasionally ridiculous and the production values still at odds with the good storytelling, but this beats the hell out of any other web soap out there right now. I recommend you watch it now!

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