The black comedy about a rich New York family battling for control of a far-flung media empire is one of the best HBO shows in years, yet it's easy to understand why it's not a huge hit, says Matt Zoller Seitz. "The vast majority of shows about rich and/or antiheroic characters encourage viewers to feel sympathy for hollowed-out, thoroughly corrupt people like these, via the simple alchemy of watching them each week and identifying with them over time," says Seitz. "But the acid-bath viciousness of Succession prevents the usual mechanism of identification from snapping into place." That's exemplified in the Season 2 premiere, where an expensive spread consisting of steaks, shrimps and whole lobsters are tossed in the trash without a second thought. "The blithe wastefulness is characteristic of Succession’s view of the superrich as fundamentally cruel, thoughtless people whose senses of decency and civic responsibility have been withered, perhaps at the genetic level, by proximity to billions in cash, assets, and playthings," says Seitz. "The show is constantly quoting Shakespeare, and is bound to remind viewers of other HBO antihero families, such as the Sopranos and the Lannisters. But because the series lacks the abstracting effect of genre, you’re aware that these people, however invented, are as real as the plutocrats you hear about every day in the news, and not for one second does Succession leaven its bitter and condemnatory viewpoint with little exemptions and sentimentalizing touches. It’s not 'The rich have problems just like the rest of us,' but 'Here’s how the rich cause problems for the rest of us.' The log line of Succession could be 'King Lear meets Arrested Development.' But while that description captures the series’ peculiar and mesmerizing tone, which mixes the corporate thriller, the family soap, and the blackhearted satire, it doesn’t get across the show’s most distinctive feature: its mercilessly corrosive depiction of the plutocrats who run the global economy and rarely consider its governments to be anything more than momentary speed bumps standing between them and the prizes they covet."
Succession Season 2 leaps over the high bar of Season 1 finale with balletic ease: "Succession succeeds where many of its contemporaries fail, exploring themes of power, money, and family — and refusing to coddle its audience — with greater depth, clarity, and humor than Game of Thrones ever had," says Karen Han. "The shocking twist that ended the first season serves not to vault it into thin melodrama but to heighten the series’ two extremes of cutting satire and gothic tragedy. There’s a push and pull to the proceedings: The family members themselves struggle to distinguish their feelings for each other as love or hate; the show’s excellent theme song, composed by Nicholas Britell, veers between classical and hip-hop; the witty banter bounces back and forth between hilarious and cruel."
Succession returns stronger in Season 2: "Only on HBO's Succession could such a bald paean to capitalism register as such a sad, fractured and empty declaration," says Tim Goodman. "That's the dramatic success of one of television's best hours, a searing, funny, painfully true look at wealth, power and family that is at its most agile when it's able to be emotionally resonant without you expecting it to be."
Succession might be the bleakest show on HBO this year: "More than any other prestige drama on the network (or, really, on any other platform) Succession tries to take on the full scope of how America’s core institutions are rotting from the inside," says Steven Hyden. "The first five episodes previewed for critics include references to collapsing media companies, the mainstreaming of fascist-sympathizers, the reactionary growth of Antifa, the insurmountable divide between and left and right-wing ideologues, the pernicious indifference of the one percent to widespread public suffering and … my goodness, who wants a drink? It’s to Succession's credit that it never feels preachy or heavy-handed, even with the copious references to Shakespeare (along with outright quotes)."
Succession is much improved after a good and bad Season 1: "What a pleasant surprise ... that the second season has found a way forward — and has become vastly more interesting in the process," says Daniel D'Addario. "The world of the Roy family has opened up, yielding a meaningful understanding not merely of the lust for power but of what that power can do, and what privileges it strips away."
Composer Nicholas Britell on creating Succession's theme song: "There’s sometimes a tendency for composers to think, If the music has humor, maybe that’s funnier. But with Succession, it’s by being even more serious that the absurdity reveals itself in its grandeur. That’s the 30,000-foot view of the emotional landscape I was imagining."