Now on Digital HD: ‘Succession’ is an Amazing Show About Awful People

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Succession

Americans love the wealthy. As much as the nation loves to fool itself into thinking there’s some kind of populist uprising in America, the reality is that we are nation governed by and for the wealthy. There’s even this little trick that we play on ourselves where we convince ourselves that those of inherited wealth are some how self-made. It’s a fallacy, a lie that reinforces a status quo built on the backs of the working class to shield the gilded class from accountability. What I love about the HBO show Succession from creator Jesse Armstrong is that it doesn’t play into that fallacy. Instead it’s a show that focuses on a family insulated in wealth and power but doesn’t even attempt to make these people relatable, opting for a scathing critique of inherited wealth with its cast of loathsome elites. Succession is an addictive show with its tense family drama, pitch-black comedy, and its comfortableness with having no redeeming characters as an open rebuke of our twisted wealth obsession.

The Roy family are the heirs to a vast media empire created by their patriarch Logan (Brian Cox). The heir apparent at his media conglomerate is Roy’s son Kendall (Jeremy Strong), and just behind him is the younger Roman (Kieran Culkin). His daughter Shiv (Sarah Snook) uses the influence of her family name to work in the field of politics while her fiancé Tom (Matthew Macfayden) works in the family company and hopes to use his relationship to climb further up the chain of command within the Roy family. Logan’s interests are overseen in part by his wife Marcia (Hiam Abbass) and the Chief Operating Officer of his company Francis (Peter Friedman). Meanwhile, Logan’s eldest son Connor (Alan Ruck) stays away from the business, using his inherited wealth to live in the desert and study holistic medicine and other fanciful fads. Entering the family fray is Greg Hirsch (Nicholas Braun), a cousin and young pothead whose parents have been cut out of the powerful center of the Roy family.

In the show’s first episode, it’s established loud and clear that the members of the Roy family do not live on the same planet that you and I occupy. There’s no family first with this clan. There’s only a selfishness that motivates them, a jockeying for power that requires a cutthroat attitude towards one another. This attitude comes from the family’s patriarch, as Logan Roy is stubborn and vindictive towards everyone, including his own progeny. Succession’s first season is centrally about a power struggle between father and son, with Kendall primed to succeed his father as the head of the company and the stubborn old man refusing to relent his position despite health problems and advancing age. As Kendall maneuvers to force his father out, the father retaliates. These two are bonded by blood but torn apart by dollars and cents.

While the ongoing battle between father and son plays out with neither able to secure a moral high ground, the rest of the Roy family is engaged in their own duplicitous schemes. Shiv’s political aspirations not only run afoul of her father but also has her engaged in an affair with a fellow political consultant. Meanwhile, Shiv’s fiancé Tom is potentially liable for some corporate malfeasance which occurred prior to his tenure and attempts to setup young naïve Greg as his fall guy, on top of his relentless harassment of the young newcomer to the family. But Greg isn’t as naïve as his appears and engages in some of his own backstabbing and manipulation. Then there’s Roman, whose consistently demeaning to those around him and has a belief system as firm as a sheet of paper in the wind. He’ll flow in any direction that will work out to his advantage. Finally, there’s Connor whose unwilling to engage in jockeying for power because he has no desire responsibility. Instead, Connor uses his wealth to buy companionship with prostitutes, and use his vast means to fund their passion project so he can get exclusivity with them.

All of the characters of Succession are awful people. There are no heroes. There are no sympathetic souls. Every time you think Succession might give room for you to feel a bit of empathy for one of these twisted souls, it shows another ugly side of them. With the exception of Logan Roy, all of these people would be practically useless in the world if not for their inherited wealth. In its own unique way, Succession is the best argument for retaining and expanding the estate tax in long, long time. Television has been overrun with anti-heroes for quite some time now, but here is a show where that term just can’t apply to any of the characters. There are only villains.

Succession creator Jesse Armstrong is a veteran of British television, having worked on such comedy shows as The Thick of It and Peep Show. Between the résumé of its creator and the fact that Adam McKay (who directed the pilot) and Will Ferrell are executive producers, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Succession is incredibly comedic, mostly in a warped, dark kind of way. The banter is often profane and grotesque, with so many verbal jabs hurled between the characters. These ugly people find themselves in ugly situations often of their own making, leaving them with only wealth and power as a means to survive and not their extremely limited wits. It’s that sardonic sense of humor that runs through the veins of Succession that makes it so devilishly addictive.

I was skeptical of Succession in the modern era of Peak TV and the very serious prestige drama, but the show is so shockingly good at shirking every convention whether it’s the sheer dearth of likable characters or its willingness to embrace bleak humor. Americans continue to worship wealth and the wealthy, and Succession is a show that dares people to do the opposite. There’s no inspirational Horatio Alger story, just winning the lottery of birth. Why should we look up to the people who look down upon us?

Succession
  • Overall Score
5

Summary

An amazing show about awful people, Succession is captivating television because it eschews the need for likable characters in its blend of drama and pitch-black comedy about a family of immense inherited wealth.

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