At first, Succession didn’t look especially promising. The HBO series stumbled out of the gate with its first couple of episodes, which were mired in an uncomfortable blend of drama, commentary, and cruelty. Succession embedded us within the obscenely wealthy Roy family, whose patriarch, Logan Roy (Brian Cox), is head of a massive media conglomerate, Waystar Royco, and whose four children jockey for the position of Logan’s successor. The parallels to the Fox Corporation and Rupert Murdoch were inescapable, but they also clouded the issue: Was this meant to be satire? Was it a social-commentary-laden drama? Why are we spending time with these awful people anyway?
Despite plenty of experienced hands—Succession was created by Jesse Armstrong (of the magnificent Britcom Peep Show), and its executive producers include Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, and the New York Times’ Frank Rich—the show didn’t arrive fully formed. But, good god, when Succession hit its stride mid-season, it became something gloriously, savagely hilarious.
It’s not so much that we began to like the Roys. They’re venal and awful, unaware and uncaring of the world outside their immensely privileged bubble. But instead of simply giving us a weekly gallery of grotesques, Succession explores the Shakespearean relationships between its characters, excavating the continually shifting dynamics and power plays of this family of brats and backstabbers. It’s Veep times Dynasty, elevated by gratuitously intelligent writing and some of the best performances on TV.
Part of the reason the Roys have become such a joy to watch is because another prominent American family—one we can’t avoid paying attention to—is so much more loathsome.
Succession’s second season—judging by the five episodes made available to critics—shows no sign of slacking. Kendall (Jeremy Strong) is back in the family fold after attempting a hostile takeover of Waystar Royco, while Roman (Kieran Culkin) tries to prove that his position as COO isn’t just the result of nepotism. Clueless older brother Connor (Alan Ruck) is still thinking of running for president, and disinterested Siobhan—or “Shiv”—is suddenly involved in the family business when her dad privately suggests she might be the best candidate for taking over after he’s gone.
Played masterfully by Sarah Snook, Shiv is positioned as this season’s central character, much like Kendall was in season one. And similar to how Kendall got twisted by his conflicting desires for paternal approval and independently proving his own worth, Shiv finds herself walking the family tightrope she tried so hard to avoid. Snook is incredible, conveying Shiv’s steely exterior while allowing us to glimpse the emotions flickering beneath. And she’s hilarious.
Speaking of hilarious: Those clamoring for more antics between Shiv’s utter bastard of a husband, Tom Wamsgans (Matthew Macfadyen), and hapless Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) will not be disappointed, nor will fans of the sharply tuned performance of J. Smith-Cameron as Gerri, counsel and consigliere to the Logan clan.
Perhaps part of the reason the Roys have become such a joy to watch is because another prominent American family—one we can’t avoid paying attention to—is so much more loathsome. But while the Roys are by-and-large despicable, they’re not dummies (well, except maybe Connor), and they’re not anti-heroes. They’re gladiators on the floor of the arena—and watching the one percent of the one percent hack themselves to bits is a refreshing reversal of what it’s actually like to live in America right now.
Season two of Succession premieres Sun Aug 11 on HBO.