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Do I Really Need to Watch Empire? Your Pressing TV Questions, Answered

Photo: Netflix, Fox, Getty Images

Welcome back to Stay Tuned, Vulture’s TV advice column. Each Wednesday, Margaret Lyons answers your questions about your various TV triumphs and woes. Need help? Have a theory? Want a recommendation? Submit a question! You can email, leave a comment, or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.

Do I really need to watch Empire? —Jaye

Yeah, you do.

In some way, Empire reminds me of Melrose Place, or maybe even Models Inc.: Once the first scene starts, just give yourself over to the show; buckle up and say, “Here we go.” Secret love-children, inappropriate romantic entanglements, horrible dinner parties, impressive outfits — plus it’s secretly a musical. It’s not Glee or Smash or something, but there are moments on the show where a character is so overcome with emotion that he or she has no choice but to express it in song. Sometimes these songs are good. Sometimes … less good. (“Drip Drop”? Get away from me forever.)

I like handing my heart over for an hour, and having the high highs of wonderful Cookie zings and the low lows of Lucious being cruel and dismissive. What a roller-coaster! My life is so boring! I mean, I have a cat and do improv comedy! I am leading the least interesting life! Their lives are so unboring! The fake-eyelash budget for this show is more than most of us make in a year. The power plays and manipulations are one notch away from Mr. Burns waggling his spaghetti fingers, and that’s just the way I like it — go big or don’t bother. Empire is not holding back. When I want to watch a documentary about the music industry, I can. When I want full-on soap, I watch Empire. Also, though, as someone who’s seen hundreds of hours of Behind the Music, Empire isn’t completely off the mark.

I enjoy the hell out of Empire — I’m not giving you homework here — but even more than that, it’s a show people really want to talk about, for lots of good reasons. For starters, it’s a network show with a mostly black cast. That’s notable. It’s also the fastest-growing hit in years and years, defying just about everything we know about How We TV these days. Oh, and maybe Mo’Nique was going to play Cookie? Buzz, buzz, buzz, buzz, get stung by the Empire bee already. My only complaint is that it is popularizing “Lyon” instead of “Lyons,” which is just a way better choice for a last name.

Between Empire and House of Cards, your cocktail-party small talk will basically take care of itself. I mean, just look:

Who should take over Empire after Lucious dies? Obviously it should be Cookie, but presumably her being an ex-con would prevent her from running a public company in real life, right? What should be the order of succession? —Neal

I don’t think Cookie’s record would actually preclude her from taking charge. (Nor should it! Paging the Marshall Project!) For example, the NYSE rules only mention financial-related crimes: “the purchase or sale of any security, the taking of a false oath, the making of a false report, bribery, perjury, burglary, larceny, theft, robbery, extortion, forgery, counterfeiting, fraudulent concealment, embezzlement, fraudulent conversion, or misappropriation of funds, or securities, or a conspiracy to commit any of these offenses.” Cookie went to prison for drug-related crimes, right? It’s possible there were other charges lumped in, but I think she might be in the clear, particularly since the disclosure of her convictions is not in question: Investors would absolutely know about Cookie’s background. (Alternately, she could wait it out for ten years, at which point she wouldn’t be required to disclose it.) Anyway, it’s got to be Cookie. I wouldn’t trust anyone else to run a 5K, let alone run a company.

Should I just give up on House of Cards? I’ve always been sort of on the fence about it. I liked the first two episodes of season three, but then as I watched Frank talk to pretend-Putin, I was super bored and gave up to watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine instead. Should I just give up and watch all the shows I have less ambiguous feelings about instead, or am I missing too much of the cultural Zeitgeist if I stop? —Victoria

Give up on House of Cards, and in doing so, open yourself up to conversations that contain “spoilers” so you can have the best of both worlds. “Oh, I’m never going to finish that show, so don’t worry about spoiling me!” Etc. House of Cards is an okay show that seems like an excellent show, and if you’re over it, you’re over it. I cannot recommend the run-out on season three at all, except the first shots of episode seven, because Claire dyes her hair and it looks pretty. Other than that, move on and never look back. I’m jealous.

My girlfriend and I keep a running list of older shows we’ve never seen so we have something to watch when we’ve caught up on what’s currently airing or when there’s just nothing on. However, most of the shows on our list are hour-long dramas: The Wire, The Sopranos, The Good Wife, etc. While these are all great shows and we are slowly but surely working our way through them, sometimes we just don’t feel like watching something heavy. Could you recommend some comedies to add to our list? —Casey

Watch M*A*S*H. It’s now on Netflix, and I’m hopeful that many people who were too young to catch the show in its first go-round (or in its many years of syndication) will take this opportunity to watch one of TV’s most influential shows. Not all of it holds up perfectly, but most of it really does, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a contemporary TV comedy that doesn’t owe a little something to the 4077.

I recommend Cheers and Frasier here a lot, and will continue to do so until my bosses make me stop. (Both shows are also direct descendants of M*A*S*H, too.) Roseanne sometimes gets overlooked, but that’s a real shame: That’s one of the best family-set shows ever, and in addition to being hilarious, it’s proof that comedy can also take on serious ideas and subjects. I like shows where the characters are funny to and for one another, not just to the audience, and Roseanne is a prime example of that.

On the less urgent side of things, Scrubs holds a very special place in my heart, and there’s enough serialization that you’ll want to watch a few in a row. I wish Better Off Ted had been more popular, but at least people can come to it on Netflix? My Boys is not an earth-shaking series, but if you just make yourself a toaster strudel and feel good for 22 minutes, this is your ticket.

You didn’t ask for another hour-long show, but I’m going to suggest one anyway: Terriers. Kind of a cop show, kind of a dramedy, kind of a recovery story, and at only 12 episodes, not much of a commitment. It’s a real peach of a show, though — charming and smart and distinct. The kind of show where knowing you’re going to watch an episode that night makes the whole day easier.

Do I Really Need to Watch Empire?