Tube Talk: Beginnings and endings: ‘Empire’ and ‘Parks and Recreation’

By Paula Hendrickson
Contributing Writer

It’s mid-season again, the magical time of year when TV viewers are inundated with season premieres. Some shows are just starting their runs, as others wrap up long-running storylines to make room in the schedule for yet more new series.

Fox is taking a bold risk with the soapy musical drama Empire, starring Terrance Howard (Hustle & Flow) as wealthy hip hop impresario “Luscious Lyon,” who’s trying to plan for the future of both his family and his company as he faces a debilitating and deadly illness. Taraji P. Henson (Person of Interest) plays his ex-wife, Cookie, who was recently released from prison after serving 17 years to help secure her family’s future and is staking her claim to half of the empire.

Empire was co-created by Danny Strong (the Emmy-winning writer of Game Change, but you might know him better as Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Jonathan or Gilmore Girls’ Doyle) and Lee Daniels (The Butler) as a contemporary twist on Shakespeare’s King Lear, with Luscious weighing which of his three very different children he’ll entrust with his fortune. Solid writers, a strong cast, and plenty of intrigue all bode well for the show. Cue the music and we’ll see if this unique show will draw enough viewers to make it to a second season.

For every new series that debuts, another series must end. Sadly, that’s the case for Amy Poehler’s under-appreciated yet long-running Parks and Recreation. In the final scenes of last season’s last episode, the storyline jumped ahead in three years, and the 13-episode seventh season will pick up where it left off, with Leslie and Ben (Poehler and Adam Scott, Party Down) as the parents of triplets.

Instead of allowing fans to savor the final installments of one of the funniest shows in years, NBC decided to burn off the short-run season in just seven weeks. Yep. The last episode of Parks and Rec is scheduled to air Feb. 24.

Call me crazy, but that’s too soon to bid farewell to the show that gave us awesome sauce, Cones of Dunshire, and Lil’ Sebastian.

In 13 mere episodes, can Parks and Rec really sum up the stories of Leslie and Ben; April (Aubrey Plaza, Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever), Andy (Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy) and their three-legged dog, Champion; Tom (Aziz Ansari, This is The End), Donna (Retta, Slackers), Jerry/Garry (Jim O’Heir, Strip Mall) and the inimitable Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman, Children’s Hospital)?

Maybe. But probably not to the satisfaction of fans who endured a rough first season before the show grew into one of the best ensemble comedies in recent memory. The only consolation is that the entire cast — all of whom worked on additional projects throughout the show’s run — will be entertaining us for years to come.

So long, Pawnee. It’s been great.

Programming notes:

• Empire premieres Wednesday, Jan. 7, at 8 p.m. Central on Fox.

• Parks and Recreation starts its seventh, and final, 13-episode season Tuesday, Jan. 13, with back-to-back episodes at 7 and 7:30 p.m. Central on NBC.

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to tubetalking-paula@yahoo.com.

From the Jan. 7-13, 2015, issue

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