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HBO's Succession: 'Awful rich people make for awfully rich TV'

On the day media mogul Logan Roy (Brian Cox) turns 80, he suffers a stroke that leaves him unable to function. His kids knew he was getting old, but he'd been strong as an ox for years. His sudden decline in health leaves them wrestling one another, their stepmother Marcia, the board and other execs for control of Waystar Royco, Logan's enormous empire, one of the biggest news and entertainment conglomerates in the world.
This is how Succession begins. It’s making waves with critics in the US, and it’s exclusive to Showmax. When you stream Succession from Monday, 6 August, you’ll see why everyone’s talking about it.

The who’s who of Waystar Royco

Here’s the rundown of Logan Roy’s nearest and dearest. They’re a scheming, conniving, self-involved bunch, and are some of the most interesting characters you’ll see on TV.

Kendall (Jeremy Strong) is the heir apparent, but he’s a recovering drug addict and doesn’t have half of his father’s business savvy or guts. Roman (Kieran Culkin) is the rebellious youngest child who only wants a place in the company if he doesn’t have a boss or any supervision. Siobhan (Sarah Snook), the only daughter, is currently in politics but could be swayed to take her seat at the table if conditions are right. Her fiance Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) is a Waystar exec who’s desperate for more responsibility and to be taken seriously. Connor (Alan Ruck), Logan’s eldest son from his first marriage, lives in New Mexico with his sex worker “girlfriend” and doesn’t want to get involved in the business at all, except to stick his nose in at every opportunity and throw his opinions around. Marcia (Hiam Abbass), Logan’s third wife, is devoted to him, but has a mysterious past, and may be manipulating Logan to give her more executive power in the family trust than any of his children. And then there’s Logan’s bumbling, naive great-nephew Greg (Nicholas Braun), who’s in the right place at the right time and lands a job that he didn’t earn and can’t, strictly speaking, do.

And these are the people Logan’s supposed to entrust with the company he built from the ground up? Even after his stroke, he’s a formidable – or, rather, terrifying – father figure and boss. When Kendall explains to Logan that he’s managed to take care of the company’s massive debt by selling part of the company to a private equity investor, Logan, who can barely lift his head, makes a mammoth effort to call his son, who’s done his best in a job that nobody else wanted, “a f**king idiot”.

That’s the kind of show this is. No punches are pulled. The characters are all despicable in their own way, but we can’t stop watching it. But don’t take our word for it – here’s what the critics have to say about Succession.

1. It’s an indictment of America

“All of these people, including and especially Logan, are broken.” – Quartzy

In their review titled, “In HBO’s Succession, awful rich people make awfully rich TV”, Quartzy says that one of the reasons the characters on Succession are so interesting is because “wealth has ruined them, distanced them from life, and made them irredeemable."

Succession — created by Jesse Armstrong, a writer on the British political satire, The Thick of It, and produced by The Big Short director Adam McKay — is partly an indictment of America’s elite 1%. But it’s also so much more than that.”

It goes on to say that Succession is also an indictment of America as a whole, “its immovable institutions and its faltering leadership at a time of great global change”. In the age of the internet, Waystar Royco is doomed, partly because Logan Roy refused to strategise, to change course, to move away from newspapers and TV news to digital media, but also because he refused to give up any iota of control. When Lawrence, the CEO of a digital company Kendall sets his sights on for a buy-out, calls him and his family “bloated dinosaurs”, he’s bang on the money. But when will Kendall and his siblings wake up and realise it?

2. The writing is genius

“HBO’s deliciously savage family drama is a series of power plays.” – Collider

Considering that creator Jesse Armstrong wrote for The Thick of It and was one of the brains behind the irreverent long-running British comedy series Peep Show, it’s no surprise that Succession has its humorous moments, not least when we’re invited to poke fun at the ridiculousness of the ridiculously wealthy.

In their review, Collider writes, “It’s a drama, let there be no doubt, but there’s enough awkwardness and unexpected reactions from the the wonderfully dastardly family members working to usurp one another that there’s a necessary lightness to it as well. Everyone is despicable, and yet, the story is an easy one to dive into and feel compelled by.”

It goes on to praise the clever, lyrical, intriguing writing: “Like with Peep Show and The Thick of It, Armstrong and his writing team make us care deeply — not emotionally, but out of a perverse interest — about what these fools are going to do next. There’s another layer to it here, with the Roy family’s wealth and their treatment of it (and those around them because of it), that makes these characters particularly odious. Yet at the same time, it heightens both the dramatic stakes and the comedy that much more.”

One of the most stand-out examples of the skill of the writing team when it comes to heightening the dramatic stakes is in an early episode, when Kendall is on a call with an exec at the bank (not just any bank, the bank, the one Waystar owes around $3 billion). He’s got him on speaker phone, and it’s immediately clear that Kendall just doesn’t speak this man’s language. He drops in a profanity, as he does in just about every conversation, and the line goes silent for an uncomfortably long time. We watch Kendall’s face fall when he realises what he’s done, and the seconds go by. It’s masterfully done, and you’ll wonder when you’ve ever found a conference call about a multi-billion-dollar loan as interesting as this.

3. The characters are fascinating

“You’re not supposed to like the wealthy, entitled, scheming a**holes in HBO’s Succession.” – Vulture

It’s a testament to the writing that we actually do like – or are fascinated by – Logan, Kendall, Roman and the rest of the family in Succession, writes Vulture.

“The Roys may be slightly reminiscent of the Murdochs or, as other reviewers have pointed out, the Bluths from Arrested Development. But each of them has his or her own revealed idiosyncrasies and those are what make the show pop. Sure, there are intriguing plot twists involving leadership shake-ups, debts that must be paid, and a scandal in the cruise department that requires a hasty cover-up. But ultimately, it’s the behaviour of these blatant power-seekers — and the performances by the actors who play them — that turn Succession from a mildly interesting dramedy into a full-blown addiction.”

4. It’s come at exactly the right time

“It’s hard to see how this story of three vainglorious children and a cold, thrice-married businessman from Manhattan’s top brass could be more timely.” – The Guardian

This is despite the fact that Armstrong first started writing the script a decade ago, says the Guardian.

“Another thing Armstrong got exactly right in Succession, as the Guardian mentions in the review, is the fact that the siblings are way more interesting together than they would be apart. We don’t care at all about who Roman, Shiv, Kendall or Connor are when they’re at home – “It’s their internecine struggles, rather than their separate lives, that reveal the extent to which money and power fractures families.”

5. You’ll like it despite yourself

“[Armstrong’s], HBO’s, and executive producer Adam McKay’s calculation is that we’ll be fascinated by the machinations of the 0.01 percent, despite their indifference to us; it proves distressingly correct.” – Vanity Fair

The Roys are presented as a kind of antihero, characters we’re not supposed to root for, especially in the year 2018, when America’s income inequality has never been more evident, and the problems that arise when certain news channels are presidentially endorsed (and when others are politically snubbed as “fake”) are becoming apparent. (Logan Roy owns a news channel that leans conservative, and much of his power and influence has been gained by cozying up to the right politicians.)

But we just can’t help ourselves, writes Vanity Fair.

“Awful as they may be, television antiheroes cultivate a certain kind loyalty over time, and by the close of the seventh episode of Succession, I found myself immersed in the snappy drama of the Roys and those in their immediate orbit.

"Which I really don’t want to be! It doesn’t feel great right now to be extending any kind of sympathy to the overseers and beneficiaries of a fake News Corp., not during this particular uptick in Trumpian madness...

"So I’m loathe to praise the show, though there is plenty worth praising. Armstrong’s writing has elegant bite, torrents of blustery speech peppered with oddball asides... And props to HBO for hiring interesting actors rather than big names for big-names’ sake.”

Decide for yourself whether the Roys are interesting/despicable/ridiculous/foolish enough to capture your imagination by streaming Succession, exclusive to Showmax.

Start watching Succession now »

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