TV Review: 'Empire' returns, with 'The Muppets,' 'Scream Queens' and 'Limitless'

Empire-S2-600
Terrence Howard as Lucious Lyon in the “The Devils Are Here” Season Two premiere episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Sept. 23 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Chuck Hodes/FOX)

Empire announces its return with a spectacle. Swizz Beats opens the second-season premiere of the Fox soap, airing at 9 p.m. Wednesday, by saying 1.68 million black men are incarcerated in this country. It's in protest of the incarceration of Empire's emperor, Lucious Lyons (Terrence Howard).

Except, unlike much of the prison-industrial complex Swizz Beats decries, Lucious deserves it.

A gutsy move by Empire, but then its is a gutsy show.It left us last season with a reinvigorated Lucious in jail for murdering lackey Bunkie Williams. Ex-black sheep Jamal (Jussie Smollett) has taken Dad's place, and Grand Dame of Badness Cookie (Emmy nominee Taraji P. Henson) and her other two sons plot a hostile takeover.

The first season of the wildly popular Fox dramarama was soapy in all the right ways, but, like the best soaps, teetered between being, like, the greatest and a big mess.

This season walks the same precarious path. The first episode is fantastically full of kiss kiss bang bang, but in the next two, there's less doing and more talking about doing, a kiss of death. The first season was 12 episodes; the second will be 18. Executive producer Ilene Chaiken and her writers have to make sure they can keep the momentum going.

 

Empire also has expanded its cast. Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei is as Mimi Whiteman, a billionaire lesbian courted to wrest control from Lucious. There's also The Wire's Andre Royo as a cheap-suit lawyer who can get even the least savory tasks done, and Tyra Ferrell as Roxanne Ford, Lucious' prosecutorial nemesis. Though they fit with Empire's largeness, Tomei doesn't feel at home.

But there's no reason to worry just yet - Cookie is back. Henson remains glorious as the ex-con who returned to reclaim her rightful place atop Empire.She has lost none of her shine and has formed an uneasy alliance with Lucious' former fiancée, Boo Boo Kitty. Watch out, Lucious. You know what they say about women scorned.

Short takes

The fall TV season is in full swing. Here's how to plan your Tuesday night.

The best part about the Muppets was that they were for everyone. The youngs could laugh at the novelty of talking puppets; the olds could laugh at their subtle wit. I did not laugh at The Muppets, premiering at 8 p.m. Tuesday on ABC. Bill Prady tries to update Kermit and Company with adult humor Miss Piggy and Kermit have called it quits, draining the Muppets of the warmth and love that made them so lovely in the first place.

 

Skip The Muppets and instead watch . . .

. . . Scream Queens, the deliciously nasty horror-comedy from the mind behind Glee and American Horror Story with a two-hour premiering at 8 p.m. Tuesday on Fox (next week it shifts to 9). The central mystery - someone in a devil costume terrorizes a sorority populated by pretty, mean girls - plays second fiddle to snappy dialogue and satirization of modern college kids. It's Emma Roberts' show as head of the sorority, a Heather and Regina George rolled into one. Like AHS and Glee, it could become a mess, but the launch is fun. (DVR Fresh Off the Boat, starting its second season at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.)

 

If you haven't turned off the TV by 10, you might switch to CBS for Limitless, a continuation of the same-name Philly-shot 2011 Bradley Cooper vehicle. This time, aimless musician Brian (Jake McDorman) takes the brain-enhancing drug NZT and becomes an FBI asset, working with Dexter's Jennifer Carpenter. Looks like a standard procedural, but McDorman is adorable, and a hometown boy.

 

meichel@phillynews.com

215-854-5909@mollyeichel


TELEVISION

Empire

 

9 p.m. Wednesday on Fox.

The Muppets

 

8 p.m. Tuesday

on ABC.

Scream Queens

8 p.m. Tuesday

on Fox. Moves to 9 p.m. next week.

Limitless

10 p.m. Tuesday

on Fox.