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.