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A powerful family battles amongst themselves for control of the vast media empire built by their stubborn patriarch, who won’t step down because his massive ego prevents him from naming a successor.
Brian Cox plays Logan Roy, self-made bazillionaire and ruthless head of the family. The Roy children are played by Alan Ruck, Jeremy Strong, Kieran Culkin, and Sarah Snook. Matthew MacFadyen and Nicholas Braun also feature prominently. Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are among the executive producers.
To look at Succession as merely a drama about the power struggles within an ultra wealthy family is sort of missing the point. Sure, it’s fun to watch them move against each other, scheming and backstabbing with a smile and a wicked sense of humor, but there are no heroes here. Everyone is pretty much terrible, and that’s the point. It’s a commentary on how ridiculously awful (or just plain awful) wealthy people can be. Succession is not aspirational, it’s satire.
The setup is deliberately Shakespearian in scope. Brian Cox embodies the majestic presence of Logan Roy with vulgar intensity, the king whose throne is the coveted prize among his children. Logan has built a vast empire from the ground up and now presides with a tightened fist over Waystar RoyCo,, a multimedia conglomerate encompassing, among other things, cable news, feature films, publishing, websites, theme parks. and cruise ships (this last one becomes key in the second season). Logan is getting on in years and his physical and mental health are in decline, but being the megalomaniac he is he struggles to admit his own mortality. He’d rather run the company himself forever than see any of his children take over. But he can’t, and the evidence of that becomes increasingly hard to ignore.
The main contenders for the crown are Logan’s three children from his second marriage (he’s currently on his third). There’s Kendall (Strong), a recovering addict who’s stood loyally by his father’s side—and in his shadow—for years. As the one with the most experience in the executive suite he’s always assumed he was first in the line of succession. Until it becomes clear that he isn’t. There’s also Logan’s only daughter (and clear favorite), Siobhan (Snook), who he lures back into the fold from a successful career in politics by dangling the prospect of leapfrogging over her older brothers. Finally, there’s everyone’s favorite dark horse Roman (Culkin), Logan’s youngest son, who’s desperate for his father’s approval but has to convince him that after years of not taking anything seriously he’s finally willing to buckle down and do the work.
From his point of view, Logan is a victim of his own success. While he bootstrapped his way to the top, his children were born into a world of privilege. They may have inherited his cutthroat nature, but they never had to struggle the way he did, never built an empire from the ground up. They’ve had everything they’ve ever wanted handed to them, so it’s only natural the knives would come out when they all want the same thing (to lead the company). Of course, they also had to grow up with a bully for a father so it wasn’t always sunshine and roses, either. The short-tempered, take-no-prisoners attitude that served Logan well in business isn’t ideal for a stable and happy home life, and all the Roy heirs bear their scars in different ways.
Adding to the drama are the rest of the family—both literal and corporate—taking sides, working against them, or simply trying to not get sliced up in the fray. Like Connor (Ruck), Logan’s eldest son from a previous marriage, whose ambitions lie mostly outside the company, including a quixotic campaign for president. Connor actually had a comparatively normal upbringing before Logan made it big, but that doesn’t mean he’s a good guy. He’s still a Roy through and through, which means he has as little self awareness and as many daddy issues as the rest of them.
Probably the most entertaining and absurdly funny scenes in the series are those between Tom (Macfadyen), Siobhan’s husband and an executive at RoyCo, and Greg (Braun), the grandson of Logan’s estranged brother, who comes to his great uncle for a job when he falls on hard times. Both of these guys are ambitious and opportunistic, but there’s no denying they owe their positions to nepotism. Tom in particular feels insecure in his role within the family, and the more he tries to fit in the less they respect him. I don’t know who decided to keep throwing Macfadyen and Braun together, but whoever it was they deserve a raise, as every scene the two share is pure gold.
Succession may at first seem like a thinly veiled takedown of corporate dynasties like the Murdochs and the Redstones—and it certainly is that, according to creator Jesse Armstrong—but that alone isn’t enough to build a successful show around. Succession works because there’s so much more to it. The writing is sharp, the stories are full of suspense, and the characters are multi-layered. You may not find anyone likable or worth rooting for, but that just makes it easier to enjoy it when karma comes knocking, as it inevitably does. And the best part is, you’ll never see it coming.
Come to Succession for the palace intrigue, stay for the sheer enjoyment of watching a talented cast at the top of their game go head to head in every episode.
Find or recruit a group of friends who are willing to watch the show along with you, relive the best moments from week to week, and break it down in between episodes. It’s the kind of show that benefits from a shared experience.