LOS ANGELES (AP) — Lucious is alive but not so well, with a jail cell his current address. Cookie is doubling down on her battle for the family business. And Chris Rock, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Marisa Tomei are along for the ride as "Empire" returns with the extravagant storytelling that made it an instant hit last season.
Becky Williams, who works for Lucious Lyon at Empire Entertainment, casts a jaundiced eye on those around her in Wednesday's sophomore season debut (9 p.m. EDT, Fox).
"You're rude, he's crude and the both of you are socially unacceptable," she declares of two young men.
Gabourey Sidibe, who plays Becky, gets why fans adore "Empire." She loves watching the show as much as making it.
"The story line is so enticing and it keeps you guessing. It's the drama of it all. And the music is amazing," said Sidibe. She notes another bonus: "Everyone on the show is extremely beautiful or extremely handsome, so there are quite a few things that keep you coming."
This season holds more over-the-top drama for all connected with Empire, the music and entertainment company built by Lucious Lyon and his ex-wife, Cookie (Terrence Howard and Emmy-nominated Taraji P. Henson). Their three sons are fighting for a share of the Lyon dream, as each sees it.
While an ALS misdiagnosis is no longer hanging over Lucious' head, a prosecutor is intent on bringing down the former drug dealer and gets him jailed without bail.
Cookie is making a public show of helping him — Sharpton, playing himself, refuses to get involved — but does she really want to spring Lucious? She's trying to finalize a hostile takeover of Empire Entertainment while her ex seeks to keep his grip on Empire from inside those prison walls.
Guest stars Rock (as a fierce prison inmate) and Tomei (as a double-crossing financier) are also in on the action.
For Sidibe's character, the season promises more visibility. Becky has a promotion and, with the arrival of new character J-Poppa (Mo McRae of "Murder in the First" and "Sons of Anarchy"), a chance for love.
"My first soap opera romance," said Sidibe, 32, who gained fame and an Oscar nomination for her debut project, "Precious," the acclaimed 2009 film about an abused, illiterate young woman.
Sidibe, who was a college student planning to be a psychologist when she fell into acting, has found herself helping people in unexpected ways because of her career. She talked about that and "Empire" in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
AP: What's ahead for Becky?
Sidibe: At the end of last season, Becky went from assistant to Lucious to a promotion, and she's now the head of A&R (artists and repertoire). She now has more power than she ever had. She's not serving someone, she's not taking phone calls or making appointments for other people. She has her own roster of clients that she's dealing with. So it's really fun.
AP: Are you and Becky alike?
Sidibe: I'm not as much a go-getter as Becky is. We are similar in the way that we're smarter than people think we are, but I think she works a lot harder than I do. And she's much more serious than I am.
AP: You were 24 and studying to be a psychologist when "Precious" launched you unexpectedly into an acting career. How have you changed since then?
Sidibe: I've learned it doesn't help to say, 'No, I can't do it.' I've learned that fear is not useful. I'm surprised how many things I've bumped into over the last eight years that scared me to death and that, when I actually came across them, I didn't even feel it. It's interesting how well I've been able to forget to have fear.
AP: You've become known as someone who refuses to be defined by limited standards for women's looks. Do you feel a responsibility to act as a role model?
Sidibe: When I was a young girl, I didn't see enough of myself on TV or in magazines. And representation is very important to everyone, but especially to girls like me, and people like me, whether it be because of my body, because of my race, because of my skin color, because of my awkwardness or where I come from.
While it makes me nervous to represent for anyone, I am extremely proud that some brown, round little girl sitting in front of the TV can look at me and that exists as well and that she has some value. That is the most important thing in the world. ... What's surprising is that it doesn't always come from kids. I get it from the brown, round little girl but also the skinny white man. I think I am a round peg trying to fit into a square hole. And I think that's what people relate to.
Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber.