Oh, it’s delicious, this dark soap opera-cum-socio-political satire. Funny, too, and occasionally shocking in its portrayal of the cruelty – both casual and calculated – of the unfathomably rich.
Is it, as has been widely suggested, really about the Murdoch family? Or is it, as creator and showrunner Jesse Armstrong insists, more generally about powerful families struggling with the nature of succession as a strong leader nears the end of their life/tenure/reign? It hardly matters because Succession is riveting either way.
Scuttlebutt suggests Foxtel – majority-owned by the Murdochs’ News Corp – was reluctant to air this show, which screened in the US from June but only arrived here in December. It’s a delicious conspiracy theory, but I’m not so sure. Then again, they didn’t exactly make a song and dance about the fact two of its stars – the always-excellent Sarah Snook and The Code‘s Ashley Zukerman – are Australian. Hmm.
At the centre of everything in Succession, despite his frailty and fragile mental state, is Cox’s Logan. He is by turns petty and calculating, absent- and bloody-minded, iron-fisted and tin-eared. His children range from vague and dim-witted Connor (Alan Ruck), lording it over his New Mexico ranch with his by-the-hour girlfriend Willa (Justine Lupe), to the political strategist Siobhan, aka Shiv (Snook), seemingly uninterested in a role at Waystar – unless it’s the only one that matters.
But it’s brothers Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) who really fancy themselves heirs apparent. Trouble is, Logan thinks they’re a pair of fools, and they frequently do their best to prove him right.
Armstrong, whose UK credits include Peep Show, The Thick of It and In the Loop, has admitted that Arrested Development was partly the model for Succession. That too was a show about a dysfunctional family ruled by a tyrannical and often-absent father, whose children sought his attention and/or affection but rarely earned much more than his scorn.
Brilliant as it was, though, Arrested Development was happy to let its characters exist largely as sketches. Succession fleshes its cast out, the chief result being that while Kendall and co are frequently awful, they never escape our empathy entirely. They are this way because their father made them so.
There’s a terrific scene at the end of episode eight in which Roman, Connor and Kendall stand with Shiv’s hilariously awful fiancé Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and their neophyte cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) staring into the dawn. After an evening of unbridled debauchery and indulgence, each of them is miserable, adrift, and deflated in his own way.
Maybe that’s just Succession‘s way of pandering to our need to believe the rich are no happier than the rest of us, that extreme wealth is a kind of affliction. If so, that’s fine by me. It may not be a seat at the big table, but I’ll take it all the same.
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Karl is a senior entertainment writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.