Last week, Empire broke a 23-year old record when it became the first primetime scripted program to consistently gain more viewers during its first five episodes. Word-of-mouth for the show has been overwhelmingly positive and the word on everyone’s mouth is Cookie. Cookie Lyon, as portrayed by Taraji P. Henson, is the heart of Empire. It’s no coincidence the show begins on the day Cookie is released from her 17-year stint in prison, ready to reunite with her family and take back what’s rightfully hers. Henson is easily the best part of the show. She provides unforgettable catchphrases, heartbreaking line readings, and natural comedy in a tour de force performance that makes you miss her every second she’s not on screen.
Being the best character on the highest rated show of the year is no small feat. Let’s break down a couple of traits that make Cookie so damn watchable:
“Tell me to shut up again, bitch.”
A great part of what makes Cookie so fun to watch is, put simply, her hilariousness. The writers give her great, entertaining material, but Henson’s performance lives up to its potential and then some. This woman is not holding back. Her boldness and her calculated camp make even the most ridiculous of lines come to life. There’s a great sense of humor to her confrontations and negotiations because Cookie is not one to be kept in a jar. She speaks her mind through no filter and without giving a care about what anybody else thinks.
“You probably would have made a good bitch for me. You look like you have a long tongue.”
From her anachronistic attire to her epic entrances into Empire’s main meeting room, Cookie simply demands to be seen. Predictability isn’t the adjective you’d use to characterize Ms. Lyon’s antics, and that’s probably the way she wants it to be. This is the woman who’ll get away with calling your Spanish-speaking boyfriend Dora and telling Naomi Campbell that she’d make a good prison wife (just in case she’s reading this: we love you, Crazy Eyes!) because every single line and motion is so well delivered that you just have to love her. Kudos to Taraji P. Henson, who managed to tame such a wild monster.
“You think I came here dressed like this for a friendly get-together?”
Cookie has gained a reputation for strutting into rooms she hasn’t been invited into, but no one can stay mad at that once they notice what she’s wearing. Her predilection for colorful furs and flamboyant prints is so appropriate considering her effervescent, layered personality. This is a woman who has been wearing nothing but orange jumpsuits for 17 years. She’s not going to waste another day wearing something basic. She’s putting her newly earned millions to good use sporting solid-gold Chanel necklaces and rings-on-every-finger like nobody’s business. La Cookie been out of the fashion loop for over a decade, so some of her looks seem outdated, but dammit if she doesn’t work the hell out of every single one.
“Name’s Cookie. Ask about me.”
We just couldn’t help using such a tongue-in-cheek adjective… and it describes Cookie to a T. Crazy is a word most viewers would use to refer to Cookie’s one-liners, but that’s too common a word for such a special character. Her out-of-the-box delivery and behavior makes Cookie stand out not only amongst her Empire relatives and co-workers, but also amidst the leading ladies of fellow prime time dramas.
“You messin’ with the wrong bitch.”
The power and control of this character is especially present when she shares scenes with the show’s ostensible lead, Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard). He runs his own record label and a myriad other business, but he can’t ever seem to make an impression as lasting as any of Cookie’s. It was her ambition and business-savvy that helped fund her family’s empire. She sacrificed years of her freedom to make sure her family could still enjoy their lives and build their legacy. This woman is not a victim: Cookie works for what she wants and fights for what she deserves. Her unfiltered candor and unwavering tenacity are a testament to her confidence and strength in one of the most difficult times of her life. It’s no cakewalk coming back from prison only to be neglected by your children while your husband is risking losing the business you worked so hard to get. It’s also no cakewalk to live through that without letting others see you sweat.
“The streets aren’t made for everybody. That’s why they made sidewalks.”
This line is just as powerful as all the previous ones, but it also speaks of Cookie as a character and her approach to life. She’s not conventional and that’s not a problem, for she doesn’t intend to be so. Cookie’s one of a kind and she won’t let anything get in the way of she wants. Whatever it takes to protect her loved ones and achieve her goals, she’ll do. Those who are not ready for Cookie and her ways can always take the sidewalk; our favorite lady is taking the streets.
It goes without saying that Empire has already become a bona fide TV phenomenon. This can be attributed to its talented cast, soapy plotlines, and Timbaland-assisted productions, but it’d be foolish to deny that Cookie is the heart and soul of this primetime melodrama. The show wouldn’t be the same without her. She brings joy and thoroughly entertaining moments to the series just like she’s trying to bring unity and fraternity back into her family. Here’s hoping the character will continue to be properly developed so she can go beyond the silly lines and plot twists to be cemented as a truly iconic TV character.
For more of Cookie’s antics and worthy pop culture conversations, visit us at The Intermedia.