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'Succession': How we fell in love with a TV show about awful people

The Succession cast at the NY premiere of Season 4
The Succession cast at the NY premiere of Season 4 Copyright  Charles Sykes/Invision/AP and Canva
Copyright  Charles Sykes/Invision/AP and Canva
By Amber Louise Bryce
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'Succession' has been hailed as one of the greatest TV shows of all time. As the final season approaches, we reflect on how a show about terrible people has captivated so many.

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For all its Emmy awards and word of mouth hype, Succession is still a strange show to recommend.

It’s basically just a bunch of disgustingly rich adult-children fighting over their daddy’s money and approval. Every single character is terrible, and grows more dislikable scene-by-scene. Even the luxe settings manage to feel soulless, a corporate, colourless wash over these lifestyles of excess and egregious behaviour.

“It sounds annoying,” was my sister’s response, who, admittedly, only watches Friends and reality TV shows about hoarders (no shame, I also watch the latter).

But the thing that makes Succession so compelling is not its storylines, which are minimal, but rather its whip-smart writing and detailed character studies; a complicated cocktail of privilege and trauma keeping the protagonists entrenched in patterns of narcissistic self-sabotage that fill the audience with frustration and fascination - not to mention devastating cringe (Kendall Roy, I’m looking at you).

HBO Succession
Sad boy Kendall RoyHBO Succession

Jesse Armstrong’s show first premiered on HBO in 2018 and holds a magnifying glass up to the Murdoch-inspired Roy family and their media empire, Waystar Royco. After patriarch Logan Roy, played by the formidable Brian Cox, suffers a serious health scare, it’s all out war for his position as CEO. The chief players are Logan’s four self-absorbed and chronically-sardonic children: Kendall, Roman, Shiv and Connor.

Kendall is a “recovering” addict, absent father, performative feminist and wannabe Silicon Valley tech bro/rapper that insists on adding “yo” to every sentence. He also pairs baseball caps with suits. 

What makes Kendall’s character my personal favourite is how he’s played so intensely by method actor Jeremy Strong, who went viral in 2021 following the publication of a New Yorker profile that included quotes like: "To me, the stakes are life and death... I take [Kendall] as seriously as I take my own life."

Roman (Keiran Culkin) is the class clown; the youngest brother that uses sarcasm and spicy quips to mask his deep-seated insecurities about sex, relationships and self-worth. He enjoys teasing little children with $1 million checks, sending sexts to his father’s assistant, Gerri (a relationship I’m strangely onboard with), and avoiding all responsibility for, I don’t know, small things - like blowing up a rocket.

Next we have Shiv (Sarah Snook). She has perfect hair, wears pantsuits and sneers a lot. Everything in me wants to idolise her, a woman fighting against the tide of self-righteous white-collared misogyny, never afraid to put her needs first. It’s what’s become known as ‘Big Shiv Energy’ and I sometimes channel it when ordering my third Domino's pizza in a week because “frankly, I want what’s best for me.”

Unfortunately she’s also a terrible person. Just ask Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), her long-suffering husband who she constantly denigrates, ignores and almost sends to prison. But lately, Tom’s been dressing for revenge - especially after that shocking ending to season three, in which Shiv sees a subtle exchange between him and her father, realising she’s been double-crossed.

HBO
Shiv and TomHBO

Then there’s the Conhead’s favourite: Connor Roy (Alan Ruck) - who was interested in politics from a very young age - and is much more focused on running for president than stealing the iron throne. As the half-sibling, he’s considered more of an outlier, hovering neutrally on the sidelines and occasionally making moves behind the scenes while his trophy wife flinches in disgust.

The one thing these characters all share in common? They’re absolutely terrified of their dad. And who can blame them? When Logan’s not hurling razor-sharp abuse at people, he’s channelling a sociopathic rage into manipulating then hurting them so that he always comes out on top. I need therapy just thinking about it.

In many ways, Succession is like watching a game of chess, the power dynamics endlessly shifting, depending on one slight move that sends ripples across the board. In other ways, Succession is nothing like a game of chess, because you've just watched ten minutes dedicated to a bit about an imaginary dead cat being carefully carried out of a conference hall. 

It taps into a growing trend of content about rich people-being-awful, alongside the likes of fellow HBO show White Lotus and Ruben Östlund's award-winning film Triangle of Sadness. There's something captivating about seeing those that have everything, have nothing at the same time; their lives totally devoid of morality and meaning. This simultaneously satisfies our frustrations at the corruption in power, but also lets us imagine a life detached from financial worries that isn't aspirational. It looks... miserable. 

HBO
A scene from the final episode of Succession season 3HBO

Ultimately, Succession is about everything and nothing at once, people-in-rooms-talking-about-shareholders given the same intensity as Liam Neeson's dialogue in Taken - and therein lies its brilliance, along with that banger of a theme tune by Nicholas Britell. 

But alas, all good things come to an end, and so it is that the final season will air on the 26 March. Although I'm sad about this, I also respect when a show knows, in the words of Logan Roy, to "fuck off". The quality so far has been impeccable and I'm hopeful it will sustain this for the ending, securing its place as one of the all-time greats in TV. 

I'm also more than ready to find out who the actual successor will be (if there will be one at all...) Personally, I'm rooting for Tom and Greg, because their chaotic, dysfunctional bromance is the closest we've got to a pure thing in this lineup of rich reprobates. 

And on that note, I leave you with my favourite ever Succession quote and an enduring philosophy for life: "You can't make a Tomelette without breaking some Greggs."

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