While the hangover from Trumpism has sparked a spate of more tender and good-natured series, – nothing against it, just saying, – the Roy family continues to remind audiences that ‘Succession’ will forever remain a bastion of cynicism and unbridled nastiness. HBO has just released the third season of this family saga, which comes with the American television academy’s endorsement having been crowned Best Drama at this year’s Emmy Awards.
But referring to ‘Succession’ in the category of drama is conventional to say the least. Either that or adapt to absurd award categories. The series is peppered with humor, at least of the dark variety. Although its outer layer is the power struggle to control a media conglomerate, at the core is the sharpest of portrayals of life in a dysfunctional family, so emotionally cannibalistic that the poignancy of many situations sparks uncomfortable laughter.
At the beginning of this new season, we witness prodigal son Kendall (Jeremy Strong) as he once again lays claim to the seat of power. But Patriarch Logan has no desire to renounce his throne, even though his motivation after amassing huge success from nothing may no longer be clear. He’s more than likely aware that he’s not ready to throw the pigeons in the park a few crumbs so, in a frankly sinister interpretation of parenthood, he still musters the strength to give his chicks a couple of additional lessons on how to operate when you navigate the choppy seas of high places you’ve dragged your entire family into.
In fact, one of the greatest ironies is that his coveted media empire is beginning to show signs of obsolescence. If Logan Roy (magnificent Brian Cox) represents the old school, so too does his media empire, created in his image and likeness. But as online startups drain vital revenue from the business to areas they can’t sniff at, the fratricidal and patricidal struggle for the company becomes even more ridiculous. There comes a moment when it is no longer clear whether anything conserves its alleged value, or instead is a dangerous liability (even more so considering that the Parks and Cruises division is covering up an apparently insurmountable sex-scandal-related reputational crisis).
In this sense, despite drawing on real events from the lives of some of the most powerful sagas in the world of communication in recent decades –Murdoch, Maxwell et al, the series successfully transports these incidents to the present day confronting them with insolent, fresh digital media. But it would be a mistake to group ‘Succession’ into the same pack of series that analyze the world of modern communication, as ‘The Loudest Voice’, ‘The Paper’ or ‘The Morning Show’ have done in recent years. At the heart of this drama lies a puppet with nothing to envy of the Shakespearean plays, with their tyrant kings, conspirators, a mother with more Lady Macbeth than you’d believe and, of course, a pair of buffoons, in this case the hilarious Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and Greg (Nicholas Braun).
The performances are essential, of course, for a comedy blueprinted as choral, despite the powerful presence of Brian Cox. In this sense, creators recruited two heavyweights to bolster the cast this season in Alexander Skarsgård and Adrien Brody, who respectively play a tech company CEO and an investor with the ability to destabilize the board of directors. The rest of the principal cast members remains unchanged. The show’s writers have indicated that the fourth season could be the last in the series and have even suggested they already may have a potential ending in mind, suggesting creators have favored a more compact and standalone work, without casting aspirations on a renewal which might disfigure the product, as is usually the case in longer series.
The new episodes in this third season take few risks, in this sense: they don’t explore many topics or registers they haven’t already touched on in the twenty preceding episodes. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, by any means. Especially if we get confirmation that the end indeed is nigh. Due to the excellent writing, the confluence of such stellar performances (and so meticulous), ‘Succession’ is one of the best series currently out there. HBO have overcome the panic from two years ago, when it said goodbye to ‘Game of Thrones’ and can now boast a new flagship title, the subscription-generating type, while conserving the old faithful, of course.