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‘Empire’ Season 2: #FreeLucious

Fox’s Empire was one of the most anticipated new shows of spring 2015, but no one could have predicted the first season’s runaway success. With Oscar winners Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson leading the cast, Lee Daniels (The Butler) and Danny Strong (The Hunger Games) running things behind the scenes, and Timbaland supervising the music, the show had A-list talent before it even premiered. After dynamite ratings for the pilot, the show’s audience grew with each successive week, defying every established truism about the trajectory of network shows’ ratings.

Having created one of the most popular shows on television, Fox is in a hurry to bring the show back as soon as the fall TV season begins. Many in the industry are wondering whether Empire can sustain its momentum, having already burned through quite a bit of plot and exhausted quite a few twists and turns. With a sprawling list of guest stars including Kelly Rowland, Marisa Tomei, Chris Rock, Lenny Kravitz, Alicia Keys, Common and Oprah Winfrey, the second season of Empire can’t come quickly enough for its enormous fanbase.

Capitalizing on that anticipation, Fox released the first teaser for the new season yesterday. The 30-second clip shows Lucious Lyon (Howard) sporting an orange jumpsuit in jail, Jamal (Jussie Smollett) performing at a concert with the hashtag “#FreeLucious” in the background and Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) prowling in a cage. The trailer is set to what appears to be a new song performed by Smollett as Jamal, in which he repeats the refrain “Ain’t about the money, it’s about the power.”

It remains to be seen whether the second season of Empire will capture the zeitgeist in the same way that the first did. It’s also unclear whether the show has enough interesting plots waiting in store to prevent the second season from feeling like a retread, and the flashy list of guest stars has the potential to distract from the already crowded ensemble. But with the juicy cliffhangers from the end of last season still in play as the second season begins, it seems like the show will be significantly different while retaining its key features.

There’s a possibility that Empire will implode as quickly as it will explode. It might collapse under the weight of its ballooning cast or simply fail to capture the ratings magic of its first 15 minutes of fame. But like the Lyon family, the most popular drama on network television will do its best to stay relevant in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Only a few more months remain before the phenomenon continues.

Empire returns to Fox on September 23, 2015.

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