Notes on Succession
27 Emmy Nominations. Millions of viewers. An extended Family Guy parody. And that’s just for the final season. “Succession” ended its run in May of 2023, and critics have already started calling it one of the greatest TV shows of all time. It’s been a home run for HBO at a time when streaming services are at each other’s throats. I began the show over the summer and finished it last month. Without any spoilers, here are my thoughts.
If you haven’t watched “Succession” yet, you should give it a try. Whether or not it’s one of the “best” shows of all time, I’ll leave it for others to decide. It is certainly one of my favorite shows I’ve watched in my adulthood, up there with “The Walking Dead”, “The Last of Us” (I like zombies), “Dexter”, “Schitt’s Creek”, “The West Wing” and “Ted Lasso”.
“Succession” tells the story of the Roy family. Brian Cox plays Logan Roy, the billionaire founder of the Waystar Royco conglomerate that owns a Fox-News-like television station, cruise line, and several theme parks, among other businesses. Logan is in his 80s and is in declining health, so the story focuses on which of his children will take over as Waystar Royco CEO once he retires. The Roys are loosely based on the real-life Murdoch family, who run News Corp.
I totally understand why someone would hate this show. “Succession” is a dark comedy about terrible people who are terrible to each other. To enjoy the show it is necessary to accept this and not expect change. Characters will not go through a descent and redemption ark similar to Walter White in “Breaking Bad”. They start as terrible people and end as terrible people. The show is, at times, bleak. Incredibly bleak. It would have been easy for the series to degenerate into a nihilistic purgatory.
Instead, the show somehow works. I think this is mainly because the writing, acting, setting, and score are just so good. This show doesn’t have a weak link. The writing is tremendous. Episode subplots weave seamlessly into the grand narrative of the series. Each actor brings their A-game every single episode. The obscene wealth provides a unique and fascinating backdrop. The music should be its own character.
If I had one complaint, it would be the repetitiveness of the overarching plot. Who will take over Waystar Royco is the question of the entire series. Of course, even this is a sort of meta-commentary on the society the show is skewering.
If you haven’t seen the show, watch the first two episodes. They set the tone for the series. If you don’t like the show after two episodes, don’t continue to watch. It isn’t going to change. Remember, it’s a comedy! But the comedy at times can be subtle. The satire is bone-dry that even Jeremy Strong, the leading actor, missed it. According to an article in the New Yorker, Strong once told a castmate, “I’m worried that people might think that the show is a comedy.”
Do not binge this show. Each episode is like a little movie. Each episode has brilliant acting, hilarious lines, deep drama, and beautiful shots. I at first limited myself to no more than two episodes a day. Then I went down to one. “Succession” is a show that needs to be savored. Each episode needs to be digested over a day to appreciate everything happening.
The below scene does a great job bringing together the great comedic one-liners and dry satire that make the show such a pleasure to watch. Mark Ravenhead is a reporter on the flagship TV channel ATN. Tom is an executive for Waystar Royco. There have been rumors that Mark Ravenhead is possibly a neo-Nazi, that he named his dog after Hitler’s dog, etc. Tom has been asked to talk to Mark and confirm that the Nazi ties are baseless. Take a look:
This is Succession at its best. A great one-liner (Are there Easter eggs you didn’t get the first time?), and the increasing clarity that this man, is, at best, a Nazi sympathizer. Like I said, the comedy is dark. Also, the attention to detail throughout the series is wonderful. When Ravenhead sits down on the couch, one of the TV screens in the background has the headline “GENDER FLUID MIGRANTS MAY BE ENTERING THE COUNTRY TWICE”.
Speaking of Easter eggs, they are throughout the series. These are things I would never catch, but the internet is fantastic at. The “Succession” subreddit has great discussion threads about each episode, and the comments are surprisingly insightful. It was through Reddit, for example, that someone made the connection that Roy, the last name of the family, is a wonderful play on words. It’s one letter removed from “Roi”, the French word for king. In another episode, three raccoons are found dead in a chimney. That seemed like a strange plot point, but as one Redditor pointed out, it’s a clear allusion to the three children who are all trying to take over the company. There are Easter eggs like this in every episode, and the Reddit episode discussion threads were a great way to find them.
While the main plot line throughout the series is who will take over the company, at the heart of “Succession” is a family drama. Similar to “The Sopranos”, the business side is a sideshow, something to keep the plot moving and a vehicle that keeps new challenges coming for the characters. “The Sopranos” used organized crime, “Succession” uses a global multinational. Both work incredibly well to create a must-watch dramedy that will go down as some of the greatest in TV history.