The three wealthiest Americans collectively have more money than the bottom 50 percent of the population. Half of families in the U.S. can’t afford to pay for their rent and food. We’re one of the only developed countries that doesn’t offer universal health care. But until fully automated luxury communism becomes a reality, we’ll have to take comfort in TV shows about one-percenters acting like complete assholes.
The latest in this storied genre (I’m mostly thinking of my beloved Billions) is HBO’s Succession. I first became aware of Succession upon seeing a vaguely menacing and visually crowded ad for the show in a subway station (at which point I thought, “This reminds me of Billions”). But as writer Jason Concepcion pointed out over at the Ringer, unlike other shows about the ultrarich, you won’t feel an affinity for, or even aspire to be like, Succession’s characters. With their wealthiness laid bare as a disease of both mind and spirit, they’re just loathsome.
Here’s the premise: As aging media mogul Logan Roy (Brian Cox) nears death’s door, his dreadful children are all jockeying for positions of power at his corporate empire, Waystar Royco. And while it features all the wheeling, dealing, backstabbing, and conspicuous consumption of a solid and engrossing drama, Succession also has an electrifyingly funny undercurrent.
Ahead of Sunday’s season finale, here are some of the best things about it.
The large adult children are all deeply, truly terrible.
“Succession is The Godfather …” my partner observed, “…if all the kids were Fredo.” It’s true: Logan Roy has four children, and they all indisputably suck. The eldest is Connor Roy (Alan Ruck, a.k.a. Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), who lives away on a ranch in New Mexico; his affinity for sourdough starters means that you’ll initially peg him as a trust fund hippie, until you realize he’s actually a neurotic libertarian. Next in the lineup is Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong), who could be the most sympathetic of the bunch, if he didn’t extinguish any ability to feel positively about him with his perpetual insistence that he’s not like other rich guys. Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) is very much like other rich guys and embraces it with heightened self-awareness in a way that’s equal parts amusing and wholly sociopathic. Sibohan “Shiv” Roy (Sarah Snook) is the only daughter, a manipulative and unfaithful political consultant with a legendary case of resting bitchface. While we’re here, we might as well include her fiancé, Tom Wamsgans (Matthew Macfadyen), a spineless, corn-fed midwesterner desperately trying to fit in with the Roys. (Paste nailed it when they praised his “exquisite sliminess.”) To sum it up, it’s just like Tolstoy wrote: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family makes for great prestige television.
Jesse Armstrong, Adam McKay, and Will Ferrell’s involvement.
The show’s distinct humor streak made perfect sense when I realized it was created by Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show, The Thick of It) and executive produced by longtime collaborators Adam McKay and Will Ferrell. This is also the part where I tell you that Stepbrothers, and not the Big Short, is McKay’s greatest work.
Esteemed actress Hiam Abbass.
As I pointed out in my Tony Shalhoub appreciation essay, as a person of Middle Eastern origin, I have a mental Rolodex of every other Middle Eastern actor currently working and am thrilled when they appear in anything. (Bonus points if they’re not playing a terrorist.) I’ve loved Hiam Abbass’s work in indie movies like Paradise Now, The Lemon Tree, The Visitor, and it’s been a treat to see her on prime-time HBO. On Succession, she plays Marcia, Logan Roy’s elegant and distinguished third wife and the only normal person on the show. In particular, she has an especially memorable confrontation with Shiv — during which she takes her stepdaughter down a few pegs — that had me cheering at the TV.
The fake Bernie Sanders.
Unlike most mentally sound people, I love reliving the 2016 primaries in perpetuity, and the Gil Eavis (Eric Bogosian) character allows me to do this. Transparently based on Bernie Sanders, Gil’s a crotchety, progressive presidential hopeful whom Shiv goes to work for — even though one of his main missions in life and work is taking down the Fox News–esque empire her dad owns. It’s still too soon to see if “Gil would’ve won” will become a catchphrase, but I have my hopes.
Cousin Greg! Cousin Greg! Cousin Greg!
The first time you meet Cousin Greg, he’s stoned and puking out of the eyes of a mascot costume. It barely gets much better from there. Greg (Nicholas Braun) is Logan’s hapless grandnephew who manages to fumble his way into the Roy inner circle. I knew that Greg was a fan favorite going into my first viewing, but I found his incompetence tedious. Infuriating, even! That all changed for me six episodes in. A perpetually broke Greg, having just obtained his first Waystar Royco paycheck, shares his intended plans for celebration with Tom thusly: “I was thinking of maybe going to … have you ever visited the California Pizza Kitchen?” It was then that my icy heart immediately melted and I realized that all I wanted was for Greg — a failson too pure for this world — to take over the company and immediately drive it straight into the ground.