Season two of HBO’s Emmy-nominated underdog hit is back and it’s richer (in more ways than one) and better than ever
It’s wild to think that a show like Succession, detailing the backdoor and inside dealings of the 1% of the 1%, could find a place in the pop culture stratosphere at this exact time in history. It gives us some of television’s relentlessly unredeemable people doing relentlessly unredeemable things. Much like Veep, it can seem like real life has far surpassed art in terms of absurdity, but the core strength of Succession is in its details where show creator and writer Jesse Armstrong finds the cracks of sympathy, and even empathy, and outrageous comedy. Every episode is full of ‘let them eat cake’ moments that are as cringe-worthy as they are viscerally exciting.
At the show’s center is the Roy family, headed by Brian Cox as Logan Roy. While much of season one hinged on the possibility of his demise (hence, a succession), that didn’t happen. His company, Waystar/Royco is a massive multi-media conglomerate with its fingers in television news, video games, movies and theme parks. Just from that you know we’re looking at a Fox News meets Disney scenario and in fact, Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox looms heavy in our consciousness as we watch. When we left the Roys last season, heir apparent Kendall (a truly great and underrated Jeremy Strong), in a series of devastating defeats, relapsed, tried and failed a hostile takeover of his father’s empire and killed a waiter at his sister’s wedding in the UK. Predictably, that trio of disasters has left Kendall shaken and weakened and with no allies. With patriarch Logan clearing the path for Kendall by sweeping the death under the rug, he is now his father’s whipping boy. To the rest of his family, to his friends, to society, he’s a pariah of the highest order.
The show is downright hilarious at times, mostly due to the hijinks of Tom and Greg. As Tom, Matthew MacFadyen is truly one of the television’s most ridiculous cuckolds and his performance on this show is one for the ages. As Tom executive assistant, cousin Greg, the 6-foot-7 Nicholas Braun, is physically and socially a goofball but he’s been around his new(ish) family long enough to learn some of the tricks of the trade, even espousing a little blackmail in order to jockey for a higher station. He’s a fantastic audience cipher. Kieran Culkin as the youngest Roy, Roman, is a nasty little prick who is constantly jealous of his older siblings, attempting to undercut them to curry favor with his father in order to move up in the succession line. He’s a sniveling weasel, the most visibly and vocally out of touch with general society (“Who the fuck knows the price of milk?” he asks). A side venture with Gerri (the company’s general counsel played by the amazing J. Smith Cameron) proves to be shocking and eye-opening. Then there’s Sarah Snook as Shiv (short for Siobhan). Played just to the left of Ivana in this lateral Trumpian family, Snook excels here and really runs with her expanded role as the most level-headed of the siblings, the most mature in her business decision making and definitely the most bold in her desire to be named successor. Shiv works twice as hard for half as much, be it station or respect from her father, and this is more than enough to give viewers a relatability of the difficulty of women in business (or anywhere, really) that is universal.
The second season (at least in the first five episodes provided for review) largely revolves around Logan’s attempt to turn his son’s failed hostile takeover into an acquisition of Pierce Global Media, a massive, left-leaning news organization on the opposite end of the spectrum of Waystar/Royco’s very right-leaning Fox News-esque model. This gives us deeply rewarding guest appearances by Academy Award winner Holly Hunter as the company’s due diligence expert and family confidant and the always reliable Cherry Jones and the family matriarch. Hunter presents a rigid and razor sharp exterior that still manages to draw you in even as she’s ready to slice and dice. Jones incorporates a superb balance of a Walton’s level of hominess without ever letting you forgetting she’s a multi-billionaire and shrewd businesswoman.
Despite being nominated for five Emmy Awards this year (including Outstanding Drama Series), it stands in the shadows of the behemoth that is HBO’s patriarch Game of Thrones. With that show over, HBO will be looking for a new successor to that throne and if there’s any justice, Succession will be just that.
Succession returns this Sunday, August 11th at 10pm only on HBO.