June 5, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Succession”



HBO’s new drama SUCCESSION may be too much of its moment for comfort.  The series, created by Jesse Armstrong (previously a writer/producer on Armando Ianucci’s Veep, The Thick Of It and In the Loop), shares the fascination of its Sunday-mate Billions with the hideously scheming ultra-rich of Manhattan.  Unlike the self-knowing strivers of Billions (and those of The Big Short, from Succession‘s pilot director Adam McKay), though, the denizens of Succession are obnoxiously entitled emotional cannibals, the embodiment of the quip about rich people being born on third base and thinking they’ve hit a triple.  Although the Roy family of Succession was clearly crafted with the Murdochs as their specific model, it’s hard to watch them cavort their worthlessness without thinking of those currently in and around the White House, and with that particular “entertainment” carpeting the media 24/7, it’s hard to tell how much enjoyment there is to be had in watching a fictional version.

Standing in for Rupert Murdoch in the series is Logan Roy (Brian Cox), a media billionaire whom we meet on his 80th birthday.  Logan may or may not be aware of his slide into dementia, but in any case, he’s ruthlessly determined not to hand any of his empire over to his revolting children, who include politically-minded Siobhan (Sarah Snook), Hollywood black sheep Roman (Kieran Culkin), above-it-all Connor (Alan Ruck), and especially Kendall (Jeremy Strong), the heir apparent, who’s in recovery and always one fatal step behind whomever he’s trying to outsmart.  Others itching for pieces of Logan’s fortune include his current wife Marcia (Hiam Abbass), Siobhan’s fiance Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), and newcomer nephew Greg (Nicholas Braun).

Succession is well-crafted, with characters who are clearly drawn by the end of the opening hour, and a jittery pace courtesy of McKay’s scurrying camera.  The actors deliver performances that succinctly capture the roles drawn for them, and Cox’s low-key tyranny over his family may be more disturbing than a more conventional rage would be.  Strong, too, is inarguably effective as a man constantly forced to stare into the abyss of his shortcomings.  However, there’s not a lot of pleasure in spending time with this group.  The characters in Billions are terrible people, but they vastly enjoy the sport of their lives and are great company, while the protagonists of Succession are needlessly cruel and cringe-worthy in their immovable arrogance and inability to score any points against their patriarch.  The social commentary is clear to the point of lacking any hint of nuance.

Is there an audience for Succession?  Where Veep and Arrested Development draw comedy from their awful participants, the new series instead provides an assortment of squirms and winces.  Unfortunately for the show, right now those are in overabundant supply.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."