Paul Casserly on what makes Succession tick, and why we should be excited about season two, streaming on NEON from 12 August.
In the aftermath of that all-consuming behemoth Game of Thrones, punters were urged to try out Chernobyl by TV scribblers with good intentions and an HBO wanting to prolong what TV types like to call the halo effect. All those hungry eyeballs are just about to look somewhere else so best nab the ones you can. LOOK OVER HERE!
On linear TV the lead-in is all-important. The Chase rates well, which means One News does too. There’s also talk of the mythical ‘reverse halo’—in which a mega-hit show like Married at First Sight helps the ratings of the show before it, The Project.
But things are different in the cable and streaming world. Nevertheless, I like to think that the herds of sweaty stinky nerds who loved GoT ended up swapping dragons for radioactive isotopes and melting firemen on Chernobyl. I know I did. But HBO already had something more attuned to the themes of fratricide, patricide and the unholy abuse of power with which to entrap a new swathe of viewers. That show was Succession, which is about to enter its second season.
Like many things I’ve come to really rate; like a beloved movie (Rear Window) or favourite dish (beer battered jalapenos at Siostra in Grey Lynn) this is another morsel that I have been known to bore people at parties with. Some even pretend to make a note in their phones, bless them. Yes, I know, they’re probably texting to be rescued.
A familiar response from the few who have watched it usually mirrors my own first impressions. Watched an episode and decided I liked not one character. It was just a little too grim. I didn’t want to hang out with these people, these one-percenter pieces of shit. Begone!
I have an ever-growing list of things I first rejected at first only to return a born again disciple. The Wire, Billions, Country Calendar, olives (which I only started to truly gobble at age 40) and the song Baker Street. Of the latter, I’ve even indulged in the 10-hour loop of the sax solo that has for so long stolen Gerry Rafferty’s thunder, now showing on YouTube. Presumably, it was uploaded as some sort of aversion therapy. It didn’t work. I may be listening to that eight-bar riff as I write this. Doo, doo do, doo doo, doodo, doo.
I came back to Succession after a friend raved about it and mentioned something I had stupidly missed. It was written by Jesse Armstrong of Peep Show, The Thick of It, In The Loop, and Four Lions fame! The script was crackling, wasn’t it? What a doubting Thomas I felt. I should have spotted the trademark language, like when the patriarch advises his daughter to stick with the business world as she contemplates a career shift. “Politics is what comes out the arsehole, wouldn’t you rather be up front, feeding the horse?”
Obviously, I went back, and by episode 3 was hopelessly hooked.
Succession is a family saga about a very rich and powerful family. I may be projecting but I’m guessing that the word dynasty is probably not used to describe your whanau. If it is, congrats—or commiserations.
The Roys are very much a dynasty, in the way the Murdochs, Packers or the family on Dynasty are. It may contain traces of the Trumps. They own a vast international media empire, and the daddy Logan, played to chilling perfection by Brian Cox, has the demeanour of a modern-day robber baron. A gnarly old dog, ready to fight off corporate foes and challenges from within the family. Hell, he’ll rip a new one in anything that moves. Pugnacious AF.
His sons almost seem harmless, or useless, enough but there’s an edge, there, too. Dulled by overindulgence, but still bubbling. The eldest is a new age goober, (Alan Ruck of Ferris Bueller fame) the youngest bro, a coked-up party sleaze (Keiren Culkin seemed was born to play this part) but the middle boy, Kendell, is more problematic in that he’s not a complete waste of space. The only girl, and youngest child, Shiv (Sarah Snook) seems like a sharper knife, but her partner Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) is a nong who blunts her somewhat.
On a good day, Logan Roy can see off the worst of these would-be dragons as if he were Arya Stark sticking the needle into a white walker. If a phone needs to be tapped or a cop bribed, he’ll Murdoch like the best of them. He could behead a corporate raider before breakfast. A mere mortal would pee their pants if he turned on them and that’s the exact expression that resides on the face of son Kendell (Jeremy Strong) for most of the first series.
A touch of whippet in the presence of a bull Mastiff, but still, you sense that his DNA has the same killer twist as pops. His bros have buried their mojos tending to their character flaws, his sister is playing the cards more closely, but Kendall has a twinkle that says that he might fancy himself as he mounts an attempt to wrestle his way to the top and sideline the lion. The balls on him… waiting to be cut off. A moment presents itself and he moves. The wrestle that unfolds is lovely dirty fun, the comedy so dark it’s almost hidden.
Matthew Macfadyen (Pride & Prejudice, In My Father’s Den) does something quite brilliant as he plays a classic bottom feeder trying to wheedle his way towards the treasure on offer in the realm of the super-rich. Naturally, he punches down when delivered someone from a lower rung on the ladder, a grandson of Logan’s who arrives to sniff at the trough though he barely knows how to operate his nostrils. A dumb and dumber relationship blooms.
As you ascend the final episodes of Succession the tension rattles the windows. A thriller, a satire, a family saga—it’s all of these, but mostly, like that sax riff from Baker Street, once it’s in, it’s not easy to forget.
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