Heaven help me, I cannot decide if Succession is good. It’s becoming a problem, both because part of my job is deciding if I think a show is good or not and because it is driving me mad. People will ask me “Hey, that new HBO show Succession… any good?” and I’ll either tie myself into a rhetorical pretzel or just tear off in the opposite direction to escape their question. (I’m doing great, thanks.) I was sure I hated it after two episodes, then I watched two more and I kind of loved it, now I’ve watched two more and I can’t figure it out. There’s no middle ground here: Either the show is bad and I hate it or it is great and I love it. I just don’t know which it is.
So what I’m going to do here, as much for me as it is for you, is lay out some of the Pros and Cons for the show and see if it helps me sort through the clutter.
PRO — It has a great premise and foundation
Succession has everything I could want out of a television show. It is a fancy prestige series about a hardass billionaire media titan and his failsons and somewhat less of failure of a daughter and her slimy failfiance. Everyone is rich and awful and blatantly/shamelessly angling for power. There’s a young, doofy rube who is kind of like if Jared from Silicon Valley was less competent and more naive. It has heavy doses of the Murdoch family (owner of a conservative media empire considers passing power to his children) and shades of Sumner Redstone’s Viacom drama (health issues create a power vacuum and questions about who is and should be in control). I love gossipy media stories and failsons, and I especially love gossipy media stories about failsons.
It’s big and messy, too. Everyone is just trying to survive or ruin each other for literally every minute of every episode. One of the failsons is played by Alan Ruck and he just asked a high-end escort if she’d be willing to go “exclusive” while they were at the family Thanksgiving dinner he invited her to. His sister is a political consultant for a female politician who had to navigate a scandal involving her husband showing the world a video of his b-hole. I love messy shows with salacious twists.
I should love this show. Theoretically.
CON — It feels like it should be more fun
This is the weird thing about Succession. It should be more fun. That’s how a show like this works. Look at Billions. Billions is also a show about awful rich people behaving badly. The characters on Billions actually behave worse than the characters on Succession, by a lot. Wendy is the moral center on that show and she helped her husband and his sworn enemy railroad an oncologist for a crime involving stock manipulation and the poisoning of an all-natural energy drink called Ice Juice. And yet, despite this, I like all of the characters on Billions more than I like any of the characters on Succession. “Like” is probably the wrong word here. I hate everyone on both shows with the fury of 1000 suns. They’re all entitled monsters. If I met any of them I would probably take a 45-minute shower as soon as I got home. But Billions has more entertaining monsters. The show is crazy and it knows it’s crazy, which dulls the sharp edges a bit and makes the whole thing palatable.
Take, for example, the ortolans. Both shows have featured scenes where two characters go out for an expensive dinner and order ortolans, tiny endangered songbirds that are cooked and consumed whole, skull and all. It’s one of those “this is how the rich live” moments that both shows use to paint a picture of excess. The difference is, Billions did it with no apologies, with both characters enjoying the dish free of any shame. Succession had the doofy rube eat one and feel weird about it. Which, fine, yeah, you probably should feel weird about paying $200 to eat a whole tiny bird that is mostly illegal to eat. But if you’re giving me awful rich people, there’s something to be said for going all-in. Let them revel in it. We can figure out they’re all gross on our own.
PRO — Brian Cox just growls and swears at everyone and I love it
The best part of Succession is Brian Cox as Roy family patriarch Logan Roy. He’s gruff and domineering and vulgar and Cox appears to be enjoying the heck out of it all. It’s telling that the point I decided I didn’t like the show was during the episode in which his character suffered a stroke and was in a coma. It’s also telling that the point I started to come around was when he recovered and started pushing people around again. I think — ??? — the show would like us to root for Kendall, the next-in-line son with the big plans, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Not yet, at least. He’s very whiny.
(Also, James Cromwell was recently introduced as Logan’s cranky older brother. The two of them have been engaged in a decades-long sibling feud. I am — to be very clear — extremely here for a bitter Cromwell-Cox sibling rivalry. Both of them growling at each other and saying hurtful things while barely raising their voices. I had no clue how much I needed this until a few days ago and now the possibility of it is making me giddy. Again, doing great over here.)
Below, please enjoy three more screencaps in which Logan Roy tells someone — usually one of his sons — to “fuck off.” These are all from the last two episodes. I hope we end the season with enough for a full supercut.
CON — I want someone to hit Kieran Culkin’s character in the head with a shovel
Kieran Culkin plays the youngest Roy brother, Roman, who is a weasel and jerk and brat and the family’s black sheep. This is the character I would usually find charming, in a perverse way. But, to this point, he’s yet to display any real redeemable characteristics. He’s a little like Pete Campbell from Mad Men if Pete never did anything of substance to advance the plot. He just whines and berates waiters and one time he whacked it in his office onto his glass wall overlooking the city. I hope he gets eaten by a bear.
PRO — The, uh, theme song is good?
I dig those tinkly cascading pianos, man. I haven’t skipped over the opening credits yet and I don’t see myself doing so anytime soon.
CON — I’m already out of Pros but I still can’t stop watching
This is where things get dicey. Most of this piece was complaints about the show and comparisons to a different show I like more, and yet… I’m legitimately excited for next week’s episode. And the rest of the season. It’s not a hate-watch thing, either. I’m addicted to it all and I’m not sure why. You know that saying “the best diet is the one you stick with?” You could make a reasonable argument that, if you applied the same logic to television, Succession is my favorite current show, even though I can’t decide if it’s good or if I even like it.
It’s all very upsetting. Someone please help me.