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This brand-new 10-part series from HBO is about a filthy rich media tycoon Logan Roy (Brian Cox), one of the most influential people and probably one of the most terrifying people in the world, and his family, who are all trying to get their cut of Waystar Royco’s profits and power when Logan’s health issues force him to take a step back. Between his four children, his bumbling great-nephew, his loyal but controlling third wife, his long-time friend who’s the company COO, and his daughter’s slimy fiance, everybody wants a piece of the business, but Logan’s not giving anything up without a fight.
Succession, described by the Guardian as “King Lear … updated for 2018, with the monarchy exchanged for a media empire, and Shakespearean soliloquies replaced with f-bombs”, is exclusive to Showmax, now streaming. Here are 6 reasons to watch.
1. It’s funnier than you’d expect
Succession comes from showrunner Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show), who also wrote the first episode, and was produced by Adam McKay (a writer on the British political satire The Thick of It). McKay also directed the pilot. This means that from the very first moment, Succession is smart, witty, quick and sharp. The dialogue is full of sarcasm and humorous comebacks, which keeps the action going at a fast clip, whether you’re watching a high-stakes family softball game or a conference call between Kendall Roy and the bank. Scenes that in any other show would be boring (a tycoon discussing the billions of dollars his firm owes a financial institution) are full of menace, snide comments and tense, nail-biting suspense. For example? The venomous use of the word “dude” between Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong), Logan’s heir apparent, and Lawrence (Rob Yang), the CEO and founder of a smaller company that Kendall wants to buy out, will give you chills. These guys aren’t playing.
The funniest lines probably go to Kieran Culkin, who plays Logan’s rebellious, feckless youngest son Roman, and Nicholas Braun, as Logan’s great-nephew Greg, is another great source of humour, towering over the rest of the family and embodying the role of the bumbling youngster who doesn’t have a clue. The first time we see him, he … how can we put this delicately? “Gets sick” while in costume as a cartoon character at the Waystar Royco theme parks where he works. The scene is completely surreal and bizarre, and very funny.
2. It’s got an ace cast
There’s a good mix of familiar stars and lesser known actors in Succession. It’s impossible to talk about the series without mentioning the sheer brilliance of Brian Cox (the Scottish actor you might recognise from Penny Dreadful and War and Peace) as Logan Roy. He’s by turns fearsome, absent-minded, shrewd and cruel, and Cox makes us both fear him and empathise with him – how’s he supposed to turn over his company to the idiots he’s surrounded by?
Culkin’s character Roman is not too dissimilar from his character in Fargo, Season 2, in which he plays the youngest son of a mob family who comes to a sticky end. Roman in Succession is just as spoiled as Fargo’s Rye Gerhardt, but Roman’s a lot less delusional, and is probably the only member of Logan’s family who dares to speak the truth to him. In the first episode, we find out that Roman’s previous role at Waystar Royco “didn’t fit” and that he’s happy to be shot of it, but when Logan offers him any role he’d like in exchange for his signature on a change of trust that will give Logan’s third wife Marcia more executive power than any of his children, Roman reveals himself to be as cunning and power-hungry as the rest of the family, despite the smirk on his face and his laissez-faire attitude.
Connor Roy (Alan Ruck, who is probably best known as hypochondriac Cameron from 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) is Logan’s eldest child, who lives in New Mexico and has nothing to do with the family business. His gift to his father on his birthday? A sourdough starter – which Logan calls “bread goo”, and has absolutely no use for. Connor comes off as a middle-aged hippie type, but before long, he’s just as deeply involved in the family drama as his younger siblings.
Matthew Macfadyen plays Tom, a Waystar Royco exec and the fiance of Logan’s only daughter Siobhan – “Shiv”. He is desperate for Logan to recognise him, to like him and to respect him, but he’s so sycophantic that we know it’s never going to happen. Keep an eye on him; he seems like a sheep but he’s got his eye on the prize. He’s probably the least likeable of all the characters on Succession, and that’s saying a lot, and it’s a testament to Macfadyen’s range as an actor. We’ve never seen him in a role we didn’t like (I mean, he’s Mr Darcy in 2005’s Pride and Prejudice), and he’s almost unrecognisable as Tom.
Logan’s wife Marcia is played by Hiam Abbass. You might have seen her in Blade Runner 2049, or in one of her various best actress award-winning roles at various international film festivals. Her character is calm and steady and elegant and respectful to Logan’s children, and she seems to really love Logan, but there’s a steel in her gaze, and we know immediately that she’s playing the long game. If anyone in this family is going to succeed in taking Logan’s place, it’s probably her. Especially when we find out she’s got a mysterious past…
3. It gives us a lot to think about when it comes to wealth and power
While we might not care too deeply about the characters on Succession because their circumstances make them difficult to relate to (and they’re all quite despicable – but more on that later), we are intensely fascinated by each of them. Somehow, this series makes us care about these selfish, entitled members of the 0.01%. We see that their lives aren’t as wonderful as we imagine, and that, in fact, being a member of the Roy family is more of a prison than a privilege.
Is Succession supposed to ingratiate wealthy people to the rest of us by showing us what their struggles are, how pressured and stressful their lives are? Or is it supposed to emphasise what can go wrong when so much power and influence, especially over the media, lies in the hands of a few flawed people like the Roys? Is it a veiled message about the cracks in the current US regime?
We’re not sure … but we can’t stop watching.
4. It’s like Game of Thrones set in present-day USA
Machinations, power plays, ruthless manoeuvres, long-held grudges, vicious backstabbing and twisted family dynamics – sound like any other TV series you know? The Roys are comparable to the Lannisters of Game of Thrones, and their slick, secret moves to wrestle as much power and wealth as possible out of the family business would not be out of place in the battle for the Iron Throne.
Game of Thrones Season 8 is only due to hit our screens next year, but Succession is a good way to get your fix of seeing powerful people brought to their knees, and admiring the tenacity of the least likely players worming and squirming and scheming their way up to the top. (Game of Thrones Seasons 1 to 7 are all on Showmax.)
5. It’s already been renewed for Season 2
It was announced in June, just a week after the show’s premiere in the States, that Succession had been renewed for a second season, which means you won’t be disappointed at the end of Season 1 – there’ll be plenty more action and more drama to come.
6. Every character is loathsome
Greed? Check. Envy? Check. Pride, gluttony, wrath, check, check, check. The Roys commit every cardinal sin, plus a few extra (there must be a special place in hell for people who drive their elderly father to have a stroke, however inadvertently, because they refuse to give him the help he’s requested; and likewise for a father who deliberately lays traps for his son to prove that he’s not worthy of either his respect or his place in the family business). We’d hate to know them IRL, but the Roys make for deliciously scandalous viewing, with each instance of backstabbing and betrayal taking us by surprise, because surely they couldn’t stoop any lower? But after a few episodes, you’ll realise that there’s nothing the members of this family won’t do to secure their share of power. As Collider writes: “Ultimately it’s less about who will rule, but what it will cost to see them get there.”
Succession is exclusive to Showmax and starts streaming from Monday, 6 August.
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