A Despicably Rich Family Drama
Streaming on HBO Go | 2018–present | MA | 2 seasons, 60 min. episodes
Genre: Shakespearean-like sh*t show?
Why We Watched: I didn't want to like this show. Do I care about the lives of the one-percent? Or corporate business culture? Or New York City? Or old white men who won't relinquish power? No, I really do not. But for whatever reason, when the HBO Go platform stapled the series thumbnail to the top of my screen during Emmy week, I thought, heck. Why not? I watched one episode and was embarrassingly addicted.
You Might Also Like: Watching Succession will leave you feeling fairly icky. I mean, not one member of the Roy family is a good person. May I suggest a lighthearted comedy as a cupcake chaser*? After my brother-in-law pointed out that Succession has the same plot as Arrested Development (on Netflix), I haven't been able to get it out of my head. The perfect pairing!
*For new What-To-Watchers (welcome 👋!), a cupcake chaser is a short show to cleanse your palette after an emotionally disturbing screening.
On the eve of his eightieth birthday, billionaire media mogul Logan Roy (Brian Cox) is preparing to finally step aside as the founder and CEO of Waystar Royco. And after years of suffering under his father's wrath and criticism, second-oldest son and heir-apparent Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) is poised to succeed his father. Until, that is, the aging patriarch announces that he has no plans to retire any time soon. Think King Lear meets Rupert Murdoch.
Where do I even begin with this series? It's about family, wealth, power, and greed. It's about extreme class differences and American capitalism. It's two parts drama, one part satirical comedy. And it's infinitely watchable while also being completely impossible to sit through—mostly due to the unlikability of Logan's legacies. The Roy family includes eldest son, Connor (Alan Ruck), from his first marriage. Then Kendall and Shiv (Sarah Snook), short for Siohban, and youngest son Roman (Kieran Culkin) from his second. And his current wife Marcia (Hiam Abbass), who hasn't quite earned the children's trust yet. Even if we have glimmers of sympathy for the Roys, the series is quick to take them away. Yes, they have an abusive father. But is that really an excuse for <insert abhorrent immoral act here>?
Watching these characters is kind of like watching a train, or perhaps a town car, wreck. You don't want to enjoy their lurid acts like you might a Royco Adventure Theme Park attraction... but you can't seem to look away either. Case in point, take Kendall's arc, which serves as the story engine for the first season. We become enraptured with if/when/how he might get out from under Logan's shadow—but at the same time, he is a miserable human being. The less-than-recovering coke addict is an absentee father reeling from a divorce, willing to give up anything (including his morals) if it means running Waystar Royco. He may have a little more humanity left than the other Roys, but that's not saying much. So as we watch him careen toward either success or disaster, it's hard to say how we're supposed to feel. Do we want him to win or loose?
The show was created and written by Jesse Armstrong, who seemingly came out of left field with this series—or whatever equivalent phrase people say in England, given that Armstrong is a Brit. He's written primarily for UK comedy series (Peep Show, on Hulu), and then shows up with this drama for American audiences? Of course, the series executive producers Adam McKay and Will Ferrell had a similar transition, beginning with Anchorman, Talladega Nights, etc. before moving on to more serious projects like The Big Short and Vice. While Succession isn't uproarious by any means, it leverages satirical humor to offer up a little levity and a lot of discomfort. (Season 2, FWIW, seems to lead with the funny a bit more... although I'm still reeling from a Season 1 hangover, so maybe that's just by comparison?)
And then there's the freaking music. I don't often write about a show's score—it's just not typically an element that anchors a television series in the same way it does a film. But Succession's theme, cued at pivotal moments in order to immediately heighten the tension, is so essential to the story that it becomes like a character of its own. It was composed by Nicholas Brittell, the Academy Award–nominated classically trained pianist who has become the trusted source of music for Best Picture noms like Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk, Whiplash (which he also produced), The Big Short, and Vice. “I wanted it to have a sense of old-world gravitas,” Britell said, “while also feeling strange and—at times—absurd.” And that, dear viewer, is the perfect descriptor of this series.
Watch this show. Maybe don't binge it, but maybe do: Each episode serves up a new, harder pill to swallow. Do you prefer to take it in small sips or down in one gulp? Either way, to paraphrase Roman Roy, no amount of anti-bacterial gel is going to be able to wipe Succession off of you.