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A Love Letter To Cousin Greg From HBO’s ‘Succession’

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Succession is good. It is very good. I need to lead with that because the last time I wrote about the show I could not decide if I loved it or hated it. The episodes that have aired since then have been so good and the issues I had with the show — not enough fun and no reason to pull for any character — mostly melted away as the season progressed, to the point that I now enjoy it immensely and have many opinions about many of the people and events on the show. As you will see. But now we must move on, for two reasons. One, because my feelings on the show were already summed up almost perfectly by this tweet.

And two, because now I want to talk about Cousin Greg.

Everyone on Succession is a jackal or a scoundrel or both. Kendall is a disaster, careening all over the place from serious businessman to sneaker-clad tech investor, saying things like “business is my fucking” without a hint of irony. Roman is useless, albeit in an increasingly charming way, to the extent one finds the entitled antics of grown man acting like a teenage brat charming. Shiv is working on the political campaign of a man who wants to destroy her family, which is kind of noble until you examine her intentions. Tom is insane. Logan is a monster, in a way that mostly explains why everyone else on the show is the way they are. The show is filled with truly awful people.

Except Cousin Greg. My dear sweet Cousin Greg. Just wide-eyed and naive and standing around with a perpetually confused look on his face while wearing a suit that doesn’t fit him at all and never will. He’s like a goldfish in a piranha tank. I love him. I can’t decide if I want him to get out of Waystar Royco entirely and go be an accountant or repeatedly stammer and blubber his way through the power vacuum until he takes over the whole company.

Please do take a moment to picture that second thing, by the way. There’s a not entirely far-fetched scenario where it plays out someday. Logan is going to scratch and claw to maintain control as long as possible. Kendall and Roman will keep screwing up because Kendall and Roman screw up. Tom is a hilarious dork and I’m starting to love him but he wants it — the status, the money, the power, all of it — way too much and anyone who talks to him for more than 10 seconds can see through him like tissue paper. Shiv is easily the most competent but doesn’t seem to want it at all. And if Logan hangs on long enough and all the children fall away as competitors, then who does that leave?

HBO
HBO

My sweet gangly boy, that’s who, still standing in a conference room he’s not sure he’s supposed to be in, surrounded by the ghosts of challengers he disposed of by pure accident, surviving only because he’s not worldly enough to know how to die. The champion we need and deserve.

Again, I don’t even know if this is what I really want for him. Maybe I’ve just seen 30 Rock too much and I’m getting subconscious Jack/Kenneth vibes whenever Logan and Cousin Greg are in a room together. (“In five years we’ll all be working for him or be dead by his hand.”) It’s just delightful to me that everyone else is craving desperately for attention and recognition and they’re scheming and plotting to get it and then Cousin Greg walks in like “Oh hey, um, I stapled my tie to my pants. Again. Does anyone have a staple remov-… ahh, never mind. I’ll just… uh” and walks into the unopened glass door as he tries to leave, only to find out that was exactly the distraction Logan needed to twist the negotiations in his favor.

The most recent episode, “Prague,” was a Cousin Greg showcase. There’s always comedy to be mined from throwing a rube into pure debauchery, so part of it was that, with him stammering his way through a drug-fueled sex party he would have been embarrassed hearing about let alone attending. But watch him closely. Watch the way actor Nicholas Braun clings to walls and then springs into action to perform the “keep Kendall alive, please” duties Logan asked him to perform. There’s a fine line there, performance-wise, between nailing it and pushing the wide-eyed wonder into parody, and he never tripped over it even as the character bumbled through the party like a man who woke up in a cartoon.

(The best part came near the end, when Kendall discovered the babysitting ruse and pressured Cousin Greg to do lines of cocaine to prevent him from tooting them all himself. All Cousin Greg had to do was brush them off the mirror with his hand, or blow them into the air. He didn’t have to actually snort them to stop them from going up Kendall’s nose. But Cousin Greg didn’t realize that. He couldn’t realize it, really, because realizing it would betray everything Cousin Greg is. So he did the lines and freaked out because that is what Cousin Greg does.)

He’s one of my favorite television characters of 2018 at this point, just behind Noho Hank from Barry, which is very much a compliment. He and Noho Hank have a decent amount in common, too. They’re both sweet men. They both work in a field populated by amoral sharks. They both have a gruff older boss they just want to make happy. I feel like they’d complement each other, too. Noho Hank and Cousin Greg on a road trip together, listening to Hank’s motivational self-help tapes instead of music, with Hank telling Greg over and over to believe in himself and have confidence and periodically offering him a juice box or submarine sandwich from a cooler he packed. I’d watch that show, even if that’s all that show was. Hank and Greg on the Road, this fall on HBO after Ballers. Put Jared from Silicon Valley in the back seat for a three-episode arc and let’s roll.

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