Empire, Cookie Lyon, Taraji P. Henson


How much do I love Cookie Lyon? Let me count the ways.

Last year, I'd been looking forward to Empire pretty much since FOX started peppering my neighborhood with posters shouting "Music, Family, Power...The Battle Begins." I had basically no idea what the show was about—in fact for a majority of the time leading up to the premiere I thought that Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson were a brother-sister duo battling for the fortune of some sort of scion parent—but hey, I like music, family and power. Sign me up! I thought. 

After my first viewing back in January, I have to be honest, I was a wee bit disappointed. I was all settled in on the couch, with my tub of cookie dough in one hand and wine juice box in the other (this is a judgment-free zone, right?), ready to witness television history. I wanted to be blown away with over-the-top drama and completely unrealistic family feuds, and have it all punctuated by sweeping, glittery New York City skyline shots. What I got was, um, not that. My first impression of the show was that it was completely not self-aware, which is one of the worst offenses a soap opera-style show can commit (did you hear that, Scandal?).

It goes without saying that I changed my opinion of Empire approximately 10 minutes into episode two. But what I didn't expect was to delve into a full-on obsession with Taraji P. Henson's character, Cookie Lyon. I'm usually more apt to fall for the Jamals of the world. But I've come to believe that not only is ol' Cooks the most entertaining part of the show, but she's also doing great things for female TV characters. I'm on Cookie's side for so many reasons, and I promise only some of them have to do with her collection of furs. In honor of the legendary Taraji's 45th birthday today, let's look at why.

She's a complicated and conflicted character. It would have been really easy for the Empire writers to focus their biggest efforts on Lucious and leave Cookie for comic relief; the sassy ex-wife who pops in for one-liners and provides general sass and nothing more. But they wrote Cookie with heart and a fully-formed personality (which is way more than we can say for poor Anika—that's a discussion for another time). She loves her children and she wants to be a good mom, but she also loves herself. And she's completely unapologetic in her desires for wealth and success: She wants it to be the Cookie Show, and Lucious is just going to have to deal with that.

When she does throw out a one-liner, it's amazing. From the second she proclaimed "I'm hear to get what's mine," I knew I was in for a wild Cookie ride. Every zinger she utters is better than the last, and it's my belief that her dialogue makes the show what it is. Sure, Jamal is endearing beyond words and I love to hate Hakeem, but our society would truly be worse off without lines like "The streets ain't made for everyone, that's why they made sidewalks" and "What can you do, Yoko?" 

Her style is ON POINT. Not to get all on my soapbox, but normally TV shows and movies lock up 40-something women in conservative dress jail (shudder) and leave the bodycon and high hemlines for the "younger" (read: 20-year-old) actresses. But in every single Cookie scene, she pops up rocking something fierce, y'all. Furs, leopard print, snakeskin, sequins, sky-high heels, statement bags—you could make an entire television show simply dedicated to every fly outfit. 

Cookie is (finally) getting Taraji P. Henson the recognition she deserves. This woman has an Oscar nom, people! Yet, somehow, we're still seeing her portrayal of Cookie described as a breakout role. Her acting resumé runs the gamut from Hustle & Flow to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (where she received said Oscar nom). And, don't think I didn't love I Can Do Bad All by Myself, girl. I can think of no one more worthy of one million girl crushes. First stop: The Emmys. Next stop: World domination.

It's going to be a long and taxing wait until September 23, but I think with the support of my fellow Cookie Monsters, we can make it through. 

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