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Succession is gloriously nasty in Season 3

  • "Succession has always been an acidly observant, ferociously acted study of the ruthless world occupied by a privileged, self-important group of siblings whose power has been sculpted out of nepotism," says Jen Chaney. "This season, though, the writing drips with more poison, and the cast seems to relish more than ever the opportunity to disseminate its toxins. Perhaps Succession’s extended absence due to the pandemic has for them, as it has for many of us, made the heart grow fonder. And yet it’s important to note that it takes a little time for the new season to fully ignite: The first two episodes, while reasonably compelling, spend a fair amount of time spinning wheels via numerous scenes of phone calls about who’s on whose side and who should become interim CEO if Logan takes a temporary step back." Chaney adds: "In classic Succession style, many of the episodes revolve around big events with VIPs and the glitterati — a stockholder meeting, an absolutely ridiculous, over-the-top birthday party — and while there are plenty of moments of suspense in these environs, what stands out most is how often the circumstances in this season of Succession elicit laughter. Despite the 2020 Emmy it won for Outstanding Drama Series, Succession is one of the funniest comedies on television; its humor is steeped in how well we know these characters and their cluelessness as well as the contrast between their myopic, self-inflating view of reality and what actual reality looks like."


    • In Season 3, Succession reveals wear in a concept that once felt original: "Watching Succession’s second season, which to my mind is one of the most dexterous and enthralling seasons of television in recent history, was like an immersion in all the different ways tension can manifest on-screen: a loaded conversation between two people, a fraught family event, a hunting excursion during which executives literally scuffle to bring home the bacon," says Sophie Gilbert. "You perhaps remember less about the specifics of each scene than the visceral feeling of watching them. A four-minute conversation in the sixth episode, 'Argestes,' between Shiv, one scion of the wealthy Roy family (played by Sarah Snook), and the fixer Rhea Jarrell (Holly Hunter) was almost incidental in terms of plot, and yet the palpable hostility between the two women conveyed infinitely more than was in the script. The setting of Succession is 21st-century Extreme Wealth Island, but the mood is ancient Greece. Brutality and fate and ritualistic violence are never far from the surface. Some—or much—of this is missing in Season 3. The coronavirus pandemic delayed production of the newest nine episodes, seven of which were made available for review, but it seems to have constricted ambitions, too. The second season worked so well because the Roys were repeatedly shoved into the pressure cooker of isolated, unknown environments: a hunting lodge, a safe room, the family estate of a liberal-media doyenne, a mountainside symposium. Each episode functioned almost as a one-act play, marching inevitably toward implosion. Season 3, though, is more like a redo of the show’s debut, wherein the children of Logan Roy (Brian Cox) scratch and claw as they try yet again to commandeer his empire. Mired in the safe spaces of penthouses and hotel suites and private jets, it all feels snippily familiar. Maybe it’s churlish to complain about a series that’s still consistently better written and more refreshingly caustic than anything else on TV. But for me, Season 3 reveals some wear in a concept that once felt rousingly original. There’s little animating tension in scenes that have essentially played out before."
    • Succession is a sitcom trapped in the body of a drama: "For all that Succession pretends to be a drama, it’s basically—and a little bit horrifyingly—a sitcom," says Lili Loofbourow. "Pieces move around in pleasing patterns but resolve inconsequentially and reset. Nothing is more ironclad than Succession’s status quo. This dramatic Mobius loop was camouflaged by the King Lear-ish gambit with which Succession opened. Logan was planning to step down, which made him seem reasonable, and he nearly died in the pilot, which made him seem vulnerable. Both these impressions fade as Logan somehow defies biology and gets confirmed as strategically and personally and politically unbeatable, over and over again. The premise of the show turns out not to be how everyone will deal with Logan’s departure, but rather how everyone deals with the fact that Logan will simply <i>not die. And so as long as he’s in power, a sitcom Succession remains. The other pieces on the board can only move around futilely trying to dislodge him, and fail, and reset. The children are ridiculous, and the more they insist that something matters—corporate malfeasance, political messaging, a deal, a concession—the less it does. Over and over, what wins is Logan’s indifference. He’s a Lear who ignores the storm instead of screaming at it and so the storm stops."
    • Succession still works in the post-Trump era because the world is still terrible: "Because Succession was very much a commentary on the Trump era, there was a chance its belated return could feel out of sync with the times, in the same way that Veep somehow seemed less ridiculous when its last few seasons aired after the 2016 election," says Alan Sepinwall. "But between the pandemic (which is not occurring in the show’s parallel reality), climate change, the rise of totalitarian governments, and a half-dozen other crises, it’s not as if the Roys are coming back to a world of rainbows and lollipops. Their show remains a key fictional text explaining how we got into these various messes, but also a marvelous occasional reward for all of us stuck living through them."
    • Succession is more of a comedy than ever in Season 3: "Despite having been categorized as a drama, and having won a bunch of drama Emmys, Succession is a dark comedy at heart," says Matthew Gilbert. "Really, it’s a tragi-comedy, as it gives us a brutally sarcastic portrait of the American ruling class, the Haves whose sloppy monopoly games leave a massive chunk of Have Nots exploited, misinformed, and insolvent. There’s the much-noted overlap between HBO’s Succession and Shakespeare’s drama King Lear, but there’s also the overlap with Veep, the spiky comedy whose self-interested power mongers behave with the same kind of absurd megalomania. Watching the thrilling first seven episodes of the pandemic-postponed third season (premiering Sunday at 9 p.m., it will feature nine in all), I found myself laughing more than ever at creator Jesse Armstrong’s super-wealthy drama queens and opportunists. The Veep vibe is stronger and sharper, with characters gnarling out insults that seem to turn common obscenities into metrical poetry. And it’s not just Kieran Culkin’s Roman spouting profane wit, although that has been his forte since the start. The whole gang finds full expression for their formidable stress in the art of verbal abuse, as they continue to ruthlessly jockey for Dad’s seat at the table — oh, and his love, too. The scripts are [chef’s kiss]."
    • Succession is a niche sensation because it's depiction of the rich is a far cry from Dynasty: "Succession, whose scabrously funny third season begins Sunday, is superficially in the same genre as Dynasty, Dallas and other bygone soaps about the unhappy superrich," says James Poniewozik. "Minus the lyrically deployed obscenities, it would have fit perfectly on prime time in 1981 with its thumbnail premise — Kendall, Roman and their sister, Shiv (Sarah Snook), strive and connive to become either the favorite of their mogul dad, Logan (Brian Cox), or his destroyer. But in key ways, the show is also nothing like its predecessors, because being rich is nothing like it used to be. The wicked oil tycoons of ’80s TV soaps were different from you and me in the way of Ernest Hemingway’s rejoinder to Fitzgerald: They had more money. They used that money the way their viewers would have if they had won the lottery. The opening sequence of the original Dynasty is a time-capsule rendering of champagne wishes and caviar dreams, with John Forsythe cradling a snifter of something expensive and Joan Collins wearing bejeweled earrings the size of squash racquets. Like wealth itself today, Succession is both a logical progression from its Reagan-era predecessors and something of an entirely different order. The show is made for a time when the richest are proportionally so much richer that it has made them alien. (Even the ones not literally going to space.) Being rich, on Succession, does not look fun. If anything, it is aggressively anti-fun, as if fun itself were just a tatty concept for the lumpen masses who crowd the family’s amusement parks. The show’s libido is not hot but warped; Roman, for instance, gets most aroused by being shamed and insulted, preferably by the family consigliere Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron). Its aesthetic is not glitzy but cold. Compared with the covetable glitter of ’80s soaps, the modern luxury of Succession is both unattainable and alienating. It says, not only will you never have this, you N.R.P., your primitive mind doesn’t even have the cultivation to want it. This may be one reason that Succession, unlike its predecessors, is a niche sensation rather than a mass broadcast hit. It’s a bitter acquired taste, like expensive imported licorice, with twisted pleasures but little wish fulfillment."
    • Succession is still great in Season 3, but it's great in a different way: "Season 2 of Succession arrived with its d*ck swinging, all confidence, swagger, and ego—and all of it earned," says Kevin Fallon. "Season 3, at least in the first seven episodes given to critics, is about paying the price for that. An arrogant hothead can only balloon so much before it pops. When the air lets out, the deflated remnants require a humbling. And that’s just what we’re getting. That’s not to say that this new season doesn’t measure up to that boffo second run. In fact, what it pulls off is a brilliant pivot. It takes a shrewd creative team to know that its rocket-blast of bombast would, at some point, send itself careening off the cliff. This is the same Succession you know and love: crude, uncomfortable, deplorable, indulgent, and the kind of smart that is both obnoxious and inspirational. But where season 2 was all about letting that manspread with reckless abandon, now we’re seeing what happens when it’s time to bottle it all up again. It wouldn’t be surprising if, for example, someone in the writers’ room was counting the number of f*cks said in each episode to avoid self-parody. Don’t be mistaken, they’re still used often. But it’s in a strategic, soaring fashion, really allowing each letter the punch-cross-jab-uppercut combo it deserves."
    • Succession enters full-on beast mode in Season 3: "After two long years away, Succession wastes no time reminding viewers that HBO’s award-winning drama is a singular television experience," says Ben Travers. "Hell, even a half-scene from the Season 3 trailer quickly evokes the series’ distinct blend of thrilling apprehension and hysterical contempt. There’s Logan Roy (the always arresting Brian Cox), family leader and wounded business titan, hiding conflicting feelings of betrayal and pride — over what his son Kendall (Jeremy Strong) did to him and his company at the end of Season 2 — behind an impenetrable wall of anger. Pressured and surrounded, the furious father screams Waystar Royco’s new attack plan at his family: 'We’ll f*cking beast them. We’ll go full — f*cking — BEAST!' That snippet of a scene, even without the context of the episode around it, so beautifully captures Succession Season 3 that it’s tempting to say nothing else. Logan’s bark still makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, just as his mere presence demands everyone in his orbit stand up, whether it’s out of respect, fear, or both. His orders carry the kind of world-turning power befitting the leader of a media conglomerate with a direct line to the United States president, even when they’re stemming from a brain ravaged by time and sickness. He is both human and inhuman; flawed and infallible; a father and a monster. Watching the loyal Roy family members try to parse each move as brilliant or bananas can ping-pong between hilarious and heartbreaking with such ferocity, neither reaction should land. But they do. This has long been the beauty of Succession, but creator/showrunner Jesse Armstrong and his elite team have honed their characters, dynamics, and timing to a breathtaking pace. Season 2 promised a war between father and son, and Season 3 delivers by maintaining an incredible intensity throughout the first seven episodes."
    • Succession goes full throttle in Season 3 to prove it's still TV's best show: "Succession isn’t just any show," says Elamin Abdelmahmoud. "Since its debut in 2018, creator Jesse Armstrong and company have painstakingly forged a world of corruption, greed, and self-interest so colorful and gripping, it’s impossible to look away. After being gone for so long, the temptation for the show to bend and become more accessible to new fans might have been high. But that’s too predictable. Instead, Succession doubles down on all the things that make it great: Its razor-sharp writing and inch-perfect timing are its secret weapons, and in the third season, Succession goes full throttle to prove that it’s still the best show on television — and it’s not even close. Watching Succession is watching a high-wire act of TV writing. The show is constantly shifting from the ambitious notes of Shakespearean drama to cutting satire, and those pivots arrive efficiently, often with one word or one glance. It’s King Lear but Cordelia is inventing profanities at once brilliantly vulgar and nonsensical ('slicker than cum on a dolphin’s back'). What keeps Succession working is its monomaniacal focus on the motivations of the Roy family and the craven ways they are willing to subvert and hurt each other for even a modicum of power. But there is love, too, and Succession mines it expertly for tragic purposes: It’s heartbreaking to watch these characters make themselves vulnerable only to have the vulnerability be treated as a strategic chess move."
    • Succession Season 3 struggles to top it Season 2 finale: "The seven episodes have the same snappy dialogue from almost every member of the Roys, including references to O.J. Simpson and Timothy McVeigh that seem forced," says Alan Pergament. "The writing is so clever that it is reminiscent of the criticism of brilliant writer Aaron Sorkin’s works: Who really talks as cleverly as these characters do? More importantly, a line in the sixth episode when the Roys are trying to decide which candidate for the presidency to back speaks to one of the main issues surrounding the series’ popularity...As brilliant as the actors playing this game of chess are and as catchy as the dialogue in this talky exercise is, after a few episodes of this season I was getting about as bored as Kendall was at his own million-dollar birthday party. It was much more interesting meeting the Roys in the first two seasons than it is watching them choosing sides between Dad and the son who betrayed him after being chosen to be the fall guy. The nastiness of Succession and the enjoyment of watching the misbehavior and problems of rich, entitled, conniving folks doesn’t seem as compelling in the age of TV kindness brought on by Ted Lasso as it did during the era of the Trump presidency."
    • Succession is a psychologically trenchant excavation of the legacy of abuse: "Yes, Succession is funny; yes, it’s about wealth; and, yes, it’s really smart about the media," says Emily VanDerWerff. "But for my money, the show is smartest about what it means to have an abusive parent. The longer Succession runs, the more Logan’s monstrousness is revealed as critical to the formation of his children. They long desperately to be loved, but what they get is mostly a sense that they have no control over anything in their lives. They spread that lack of control outward to everyone around them. They are a ruling class that does not understand what it means to rule, much less how much their ignorance damages everyone they come into contact with, because all they have known is damage. To be alive in the 2020s is to become more and more aware of how deep the rot goes, to realize how unlikely any of us is to turn the car around before it goes over the cliff. We exist in a world full of men who believe that if they shout something loud enough, it is true — and who take extreme offense to the idea that maybe they are wrong, no matter how gently we break it to them. Succession captures that feeling, and ... I don’t know if it’s a neat trick, but it feels like right now more than any other show on television."
    • It’s not a new thing for the best-written show on TV and the most foul-mouthed show on TV to be the same: "TV is easily the most heavily censored medium in the past half-century of American cultural life; it’s also the medium most suited to exploring social groups and their norms on a large scale," says Brian Phillips. "No wonder the most raw and intelligent and incisive shows are often the ones most attuned to how people use the words they aren’t supposed to say. The Wire, famously, featured a scene in which the only dialogue was the word 'f*ck' repeated 38 times in a row. Deadwood used its Elizabethan impasto of scatalogical and misogynistic and homophobic cursing to mirror its argument that violence, brutality, and exclusion shape civilization as much as the drive to suppress them. The Sopranos deployed profanity to underscore its theme of American decline: 'Whatever happened to Gary Cooper?' sits right next to 'What, no fuckin’ ziti?' The big Golden Age–pantheon exception here is Mad Men, which explored a more politely spoken milieu—its characters only behaved horribly—and was also not on HBO. In many ways, Succession has the juiciest setup of all for writers who love cussing. (That is all writers.) The world of the Roys is intensely, childishly Oedipal, and its hierarchies are reinforced by constant hazing and humiliation. This is a rad combination, language-wise, because it means that verbal inventiveness is both a source of power for the characters and a way for them to reveal their weaknesses."
    • Presenting the best Succession insults
    • Ranking the Roys from worst to best 
    • J. Smith-Cameron thinks that as an outsider who can roll her eyes at the Roys, Gerri provides a release for the audience, particularly as an older woman: “She’s sexual without being a sexpot, without being glamorous,” Smith-Cameron says. “I think people have come around to really wanting that."
    • Sarah Snook enjoyed the Season 3 additions: "We love getting fresh eyes and new blood, seeing who else these Roys know, and expanding the world"
    • Alan Ruck recalls almost skipping his Succession audition
    • Matthew Macfadyen admits it's hard acting and improvising in an American accent
    • Brian Cox on whether he has sympathy for ultrawealthy families like the Roys: "I have empathy but not sympathy"
    • Nicholas Braun on embodying Cousin Greg: “There’s a trying to Greg that’s really endearing and fun for me to play. A trying and usually failing — but occasionally not, and it keeps working, slowly working, for him.”
    • Jeremy Strong admits anxiety is part of the process of playing Kendall Roy: “There is a certain amount of dread and fear. Because you have to start at zero every time.”
    • Adrien Brody especially loved tangling with Brian Cox and Jeremy Strong while making Succession's third season: “Here I am jumping in with these big sharks really in their element, their ocean,” he says. "And then I have to jump in and bite back. I like the thrill of that.” 
    • Creator Jesse Armstrong on Succession in the post-Trump era and why he describes the show as Dallas meets Festen: "We know that what Dallas is — it’s a big, glossy family business wrestling battle, which is very vivid, and very enjoyable," says Armstrong. "And so I wanted that element, the family melodrama of succession — power. And Festen is one of the originals Dogme movies. And it feels very real; it has documentary-derived kind of camerawork. Handheld, no score — all the Dogme rules. And it’s also a family. The thing that appealed to me about Festen was stylistic and also thematic. Its family feels super real, because of the way it’s shot. We often try and do a concentrated time period. And you feel that you’re there with these characters. You’ve got that added level of interest — that it’s like observing an event, rather than having it presented to you in a traditional TV way, so that hopefully, as an audience, you know you have to be watching the whole time. Because stuff’s going to be happening, and the camera is not necessarily going to be directing you precisely to what to you should be paying attention to. You can do your own investigation into whatever you’re interested in that’s presented on the screen." Will Succession still resonate with Trump out of office? "I guess Trump is gone, but the shape that he gave to the American political and social environment — that still resonates," says Armstrong. "There’s a certain amount of post-traumatic stress in America about the possibilities of what could have happened, and what people still feel did happen. So I think this show has been formed by the Trump era. And I think now even though we’re past the Trump presidency, we’re not really past that era until normal, democratic politics where people accept the outcomes of elections resumes."

    TOPICS: Succession, HBO, Adrien Brody, Alan Ruck, Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, Jesse Armstrong, J. Smith-Cameron, Matthew Macfadyen, Nicholas Braun, Sarah Snook