Crushing On: COOKIE

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COOKIE

And no, we don’t mean Taraji P. Henson. We mean Cookie, Henson’s character on FOX’s brand new hit show, Empire, which has been crushing the competition, surprisingly and emphatically.

The hip-hop soap opera starring Henson and Terrence Howard defied odds this week when it jumped up in ratings for the fourth week in a row (11.3 million viewers). This comes after an extremely strong debut.

In it’s first week, Empire over-achieved when it surprised its lead-in, American Idol, with 9.9 million viewers. In it’s second week, it rose to 10.4 million and then 11.1 in the third. Last week, Empire became the first high-rated new drama to grow in both weeks two and three in 21 years. So to continue to grow in the fourth week indicates signs for more broken records to come.

We’ll go on record and admit we watch Empire as the guiltiest of pleasures. There are too many elements that contribute to why we can’t turn away from the nighttime soap musical. But there’s no mistaking that Henson’s portrayal of Cookie Lyons—the music empire’s matriarch—is what has us hooked. And here are five reasons why:

1. BECAUSE SHE’S GOT A SWEET NAME, BUT SHE’S BAAAD

Right away, we learn Cookie has been up to no good. Our first image of Cookie is of her exiting prison wearing animal skins, golden high heels and a fresh ‘do’ (a look she later explains as “…what I got locked up in”) after 17 years of doing time. She surveys the free land and grumbles, “Cookie’s coming home.”

Upon returning home, she wastes no time commanding respect. She informs her drug-dealer turned music mogul ex husband (Howard) that she’s entitled to half of his music empire because it was her money (drug money) that started the record label in the first place. When he balks at the idea, she threatens to inform the public of the true origins of the company and blackmails her way into the corporation. A truer testament to her grand return occurs when she pays a visit to her youngest son—the entitled and on-the-cusp rap superstar, Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray). We learn he was just an infant when she was imprisoned and he never got to know her, so he harbors resentment. When she explains to him that she went to prison to protect the family, he responds with a brash “So what, you want a metal, bxtch?” And in the biggest ‘oh, no you didn’t’ moment on television, Cookie grabs a broomstick and reminds her son who’s boss with a barrage of lashings.

2. BECAUSE SHE’S ROUGH AND TOUGH BUT SHE STILL LOVES HER BABIES

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She may have given her fresh-mouthed son a beat down with a broomstick, but she still wants what’s best for the boy. She sees talent and full potential and expects him to tread on the finer side of the line before he achieves fame.

As for her husband… she may feel wronged since she took the fall for Howard’s Lucious Lyon, and he in turned triumphed while she was locked up, but she still has a warm place in her heart for her ex.

But the more endearing signifier of Cookie’s motherhood is her unconditional love for her homosexual middle son, Jamal (Jussie Smollett). In a flashback, Howard’s homophobic character disturbingly dumps a tyke-aged Jamal in a trash barrel outside their home after he finds him playing dress up in Cookie’s clothes. Cookie lovingly pulls Jamal out the trash, but maintains her fierceness when she throws a kick at Howard while holding her son… in the snow.

3. BECAUSE COOKIE GENERATES A SLEW OF REAL-TIME SOCIAL MEDIA CHATTER

In the age of media multitasking, people tend to surf their Twitter and Instagram feeds while watching television. During an Empire telecast, thousands and thousands of comments and photos clog the instaverse and twittersphere. The standouts are most definitely the memes, especially the Cookie Memes that dominate the feed.

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4. BECAUSE SHE’S ALREADY BEEN DECLARED ‘THE’ HALLOWEEN COSTUME OF 2015

…and it’s only January. Need I say more?

5. BECAUSE, LET’S BE REAL, SHE’S BEING PORTAYED BY THE GREAT TARAJI P. HENSON

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Cookie wouldn’t be Cookie without the acting prowess of Henson. Henson tends to bring humanity to her memorable characters in such films as Hustle & Flow, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Think Like A Man. Henson almost turned down her role in Empire because she couldn’t see herself portraying Cookie without acting buddy Terrence Howard playing her opposite. When Empire producers cast him, she signed on. Thankfully for us and the other Empire fans, Henson graced our television screens with a role we’ll remember for years to come.

Christopher McDonald is a Senior Producer, Writer, Music Producer, Talent Booker and Photographer. He has produced and written for an array of programming including late-night television, cable news & editorial interviews. Having worked at CNN and PBS, Christopher is experienced in both live and taped formats and has 15 years continuous experience in the fast-paced ever-changing medium of television.Chris helped launch “Tavis Smiley” and “The Arsenio Hall Show” rebooting from the ground up. If you ever need to talk music and lyrical meaning with anyone, Christopher’s your guy. And whether he’s wearing loafers, Oxfords, clogs or sneakers, he’ll pull off the best moonwalk you will ever see.

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