‘This dark comedy centres on the inner workings of the sprawling media corporation Waystar Royco, which is run by Roy family patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox), and the manoeuvrings of his four children, who are struggling to win power and take over the company when their father retires. After Logan suffers a stroke at the end of episode 1, it sets in to motion a frenzied set of events as all the character scramble to establish their place in a world where Logan is potentially no longer top dog. Created by Peep Show (2003) alum Jesse Armstrong, and executive produced by director Adam McKay, this HBO series is a funny and fast paced look at a rich family that is tearing itself apart, whilst also attempting to maintain its dominance in the changing media landscape.
This is a major show for HBO and you can see all the money up on the screen, and even though it doesn’t rely on action or special effects, absolutely no expense is spared when it comes to the huge locations the Roy’s inhabit. You truly feel like you are getting a glimpse in to the world of the rich and famous, an authentic exploration of their lives and the places they go to.
Nicholas Britell’s score, which plays throughout, is a work of art and brings so much to the show. Particularly in the already infamous opening credits, where the genius decision to mix grainy, home video style footage and have it play over Britell’s score leads to a fascinating and upbeat start to every episode. It manages to feel both melancholy and jovial at the same time, which is the perfect mix for this specific show.
The set-up might sound like something we have seen before, and of course there are the very obvious comparisons to the Murdoch family, but the show quickly shakes off any feelings of familiarity and becomes its own thing, with a plot that constantly twists and turns in unexpected directions, whilst always staying rooted in character.
Armstrong’s writing, and that of his writing staff here, is a key reason why the show stands out above the crowd in regards to competition. Not only is it packed full of smart and twisting plots, as well as instantly memorable dialogue and one liner’s (“I Look at Your Face And, No Offense, But I See Dead Babies” instantly jumps out), but it also creates incredibly complex and varied characters. In doing so, despite all the horrible things they do and the way in which they are unrelatable to most people due to their extreme wealth, the audience stays completely invested in them and what they do, and therefore feel gripped to the action. The Roy’s very much talk and speak like a family would, but the characters themselves are all wildly different, and have instantly recognisable personalities, appearances, and ways of speaking, which is a remarkable achievement given the size of the ensemble Armstrong has created.
While the focus in many ways falls on just the Roy’s, the lead ensemble is also filled with a few characters who are tangentially a part of the family, like Shiv’s fiancée Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun). The entire cast is superb and all bring different attributes to the show; Kieran Culkin is perfectly cast as Roman Roy is a real livewire, someone always ready to stir up the drama and make a weird remark, Sarah Snook is superb as Shiv Roy, the most competent and effective member of the Roy children, but someone who’s on personal and sexual priorities take a fascinating turn throughout the season, Matthew Macfadyen is a revelation (and his line readings are perfection) as Tom, Shiv’s desperate to impress and secretly power hungry fiancée who allows the family to walk all over him in pursuit of his goals. The one man who Tom turns the tables on however, and becomes a mentor/bully towards, is Nicholas Braun’s Cousin Greg. Braun uses his lanky frame and perfect comedic timing to create a brilliant character in Greg, a fish out of water within the Roy family, and an innocent soul, slowly being corrupted by those around him, and he always acts as the perfect comic relief for the show.
However, the core dramatic drive and the main narrative thrust lies in the unique dynamic between father Logan and son Kendall (Jeremy Strong), with Kendall being both incredibly scared of and reliant on his father, and Logan being consistently let down by the son who he can see is the best candidate to replace him, but has too many personal issues to ever achieve it. Brian Cox as Logan is a force of nature, full of bravado and aggression, a man who has built an empire in a different era and doesn’t plan to let it go, even though times are changing around him. Cox uses his decades of acting experience to really dominate the screen whenever he is on it, delivering seething takedowns of those around him and creating an instantly iconic TV character in the process. As for method actor Strong, you can see that he completely becomes Kendall, an incredibly insular and in many ways paradoxical man, who’s emotions are always simmering just below the surface, ready to explode at any moment. Kendall’s journey this season to overcome his personal demons and challenge his father’s leadership of the company is one filled with many ups and downs, and Strong perfectly plays all of them. Kendall is blessed with some accidentally hilarious lines, the majority of the emotional scenes, and a character arc that develops massively throughout the season. If Strong doesn’t get the role right, the whole show would struggle to stay afloat, but because of his brilliance, he just takes it to new heights.
Overall, Succession quickly establishes itself as one of the finest new dramas on TV, with some great use of New York City, a brilliant writing team led by the always interesting Jesse Armstrong, and an ensemble full of both newcomers and seasoned pros that blends together perfectly. Jesse Armstrong has created a world and set of characters that are so engaging and yet despicable, that you never want to look away from the screen.
Rating = 4/5