We’ve already been promised a bevy of celebrity appearances, as either themselves or minor characters -- Chris Rock (as an inmate), Adam Rodriguez (as Cookie’s new lover), Kelly Rowland (as Lucious’ mom), Ne-Yo, Ludacris (as a correctional officer), Alicia Keys, Lenny Kravitz and singer Becky G. But celebs alone won’t keep the show going.
Here’s what will keep me coming back for more Cookie and crew in Season 2’s 18 episodes:
1. The return of Camilla
Naomi Campbell. Need I say more?
This time, she needs to throw a cellphone.
2. “Empire” goes to church
As part of Lucious’ plan to subvert Andre’s recent “coming to Jesus” moment, he announced a new gospel division of “Empire” featuring his son’s musical therapist Michelle (Jennifer Hudson) in the Season 1 finale. I love a good “Drip Drop” like everyone else, but if gospel powerhouses are added to the mix -- and Hudson’s church roots are incorporated -- the show’s music will rise to a new level.
Perfect acts to slide through include Mary Mary, Shirley Ceaser, Tye Tribbett and B. Slade/Tonex. They’ll be sure to bring some necessary intercessory prayer, forgiveness and controversy into the fold.
And hopefully Lucious will find Christ behind bars.
3. From where does the Cookie crumble
It’s official: Vivica A. Fox will play Cookie’s sister. Without a doubt, Fox can bring the attitude necessary to call Cookie a blood relative (see “Set it Off,” “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” or her on “Celebrity Apprentice” last season). May the insults fly like a bat out of hell.
4. Becky Williams, VP of A&R
One of Jamal’s first orders of business was to promote Lucious’ assistant to lead the artists and repertoire division of the label, a position both Anika and Cookie formerly held. Though the bump in status for Becky might have been a surprise for many, Gabourey Sidibe, who plays the blond scene-stealer, thinks otherwise.
“I like to think that Becky is really smart,” Sidibe said. “She probably has a few degrees and worked her way up to be Lucious’ assistant, but like most assistants, she’s too smart to be an assistant. All of her quips come from her being literally the smartest person in the room.”
With her new role, and Lucious in jail, it’s going to be interesting to see how different VP Becky is from assistant Becky.
5. Becky, after hours
In case you’ve been under a rock, a love interest has been cast for our new executive. Named J-Poppa (Mo McRae), the character is only slated to be in three episodes. Nonetheless, Sidibe assured me that we will get to see what Becky is like out of the office.
“You will get to see her...,” she said, pausing before bursting into laughter, “after hours.”
6. More sex (of the gay variety)
When Jamal (Jussie Smollett) had his D’Angelo-inspired moment filming the video for “All of the Above,” men and women worldwide swooned. When he, between the legs of his new Aussie boo (played by Eka Darville), christened Lucious’ desk as his own, I nearly died. Not only were these scenes entertaining in their content, but they broadcasted into living rooms everywhere what passion between two black gay men can look like -- an image I haven’t seen on TV since Patrik-Ian Polk’s “Noah’s Arc.”
For many, I’m sure it was the first time they saw two black men showing intimate affection toward each other. If not only for the aspirational elements many receive from seeing this image, seeing Jamal getting hot and heavy makes for great TV, particularly at the disgust of his father or the comedic jabs from Porsha.
But, rumor has it, scenes showing the fizzling of Jamal’s romance were left on the cutting room floor.
Patti LaBelle made a minor mention of the social justice movement ahead of “The Lucious Lyon Sound” concert, an obvious sign of the show’s creators’ support. As the show has also taken minor jabs at Obama -- remember Hakeem’s drunken tirade that prompted an apology to the commander in chief -- we know it doesn’t shy away from politics.
As the election cycle revs up, any Lyon takes on the continued conversation about police brutality and inequality is welcomed. I’d also love to see them comment on presidential hopefuls Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ben Carson and, of course, Donald Trump.
8. More mental health talk
One of the most emotional performances of Season 1 came from Trai Byers as Andre. The character’s bipolar episodes brought front and center conversations, particularly in the black community, around mental health. Undoubtedly, “Empire” gets people talking. The more we talk about mental health, the more aware we all become.
9. Bisexual visibility
In case you forgot, Tiana (Serayah McNeill) is bisexual. As revealed last season, the songstress is attracted to both men like Hakeem (Bryshere “Yazz” Gray) and women like India (Elizabeth Whitson). With McNeill promoted to a series regular over the summer, hopefully her character’s sexuality is further incorporated into the story line.
10. The Queen
One word: Oprah.
Check back with me weekly for your “Empire” recaps. In the meantime, get your life by following me on Twitter: @TrevellAnderson.