Why “Succession” Is the Ultimate 21st Century Show

Welcome to Peabody Finds, the weekly newsletter for the Peabody Awards, offering our recommendations for powerful and thought-provoking media you should consider engaging. The newsletter offers deeper dives into Peabody-recognized programming (and beyond), with commentary, insights, and additional materials for context and expanded engagements. If you like it, subscribe here!

Why “Succession” Is the Ultimate 21st Century Show

“Succession” won a Peabody for its second season.

TV has had us salivating over the antics of the super-rich since Dallas and Dynasty, and has been making us love terrible people since at least as far back as Seinfeld and The Sopranos. And the story of familial battles over who inherits patriarchal power are as old as Shakespeare. But there’s something distinctly now about our addiction to HBO’s Succession, the story of the Roy family’s inner-circle wrestling matches over which sibling will ultimately control aging patriarch Logan’s multi-billion-dollar fortune and dying media conglomerate (which is buoyed, naturally, by theme parks and cruise lines). As unions try to reassert worker power, Succession reminds us who’s really in charge, and why they’re worth fighting. As journalism is increasingly commodified and then crushed, Successionhighlights the fact that our media, politics, and business remain the in the iron grip of a powerful few whom we can only pray are benevolent—and usually are not.
And at a time of astronomical wealth disparity in America, Succession wallows in the One Percent’s stomach-turning decadence—here we are at a British castle! At a Hamptons summer home! At a New Mexico ranch! In our private jet! In our private helicopter! Yet the series makes being this rich look utterly miserable: Ambitious son Kendall falls back into addiction as soon as he loses his father’s approval. Party-boy son Roman finds it impossible to have functional sex with his beautiful girlfriend because he’ll never get his father’s approval. Politically minded daughter Siobhan finds it difficult to stay faithful to her new husband because her father manipulates her with the promise of his approval. Above-it-all eldest son Connor refuses to engage in family business and decides to run for president instead—having given up all hope of his father’s approval, or at least his attention. It’s vindicating to the rest of us, this misery. Their world revolves around Daddy’s whims and wealth to a terrifying degree at a time when we want to believe that patriarchy is dying, but men still dominate Forbes lists to the extreme—and women who get to the top still get there by marriage or inheritance. They are, in a metaphorical sense, all of us, subject to the Jeff Bezoses and Mark Zuckerbergs.
Succession does all of this heavy lifting without being preachy or pedantic, thanks to the razor-sharp writing of creator Jesse Armstrong and his team, as well as killer performances from Brian Cox as the patriarch; Kieran CulkinAlan RuckSarah Snook, and Jeremy Strong as his children; and Nicholas Braun as the iconically awkward hanger-on Cousin Greg. Even more stunning is the sheer comedy of it all, as evidenced by the executive producer credits of Anchorman duo Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. Few pure comedies deliver funnier moments than, say, Connor’s boilerplate eulogy at a family employee’s funeral. (“When a man dies, it is sad. All of us will die one day. In this case, it is Lester who has done so.”) Even the fake headlines, if you’re paying enough attention to catch them, are a blast. (From pseudo-Buzzfeed site Vaulter: “Wait, Is Every Taylor Swift Lyric Secretly Marxist?” From the scroll on the Roy family’s Fox-like ATN: “Gender Fluid Illegals May Be Entering the Country ‘Twice.’”) Is Succession dark comedy or funny tragedy, satire or chillingly real? In fact, it’s all of the above—a quintessentially 21st century masterpiece.

Where to Watch: HBO

A Moment From the Show

When Logan Roy suspects a traitor in his midst, there’s only one way to smoke them out: utter humiliation.  “Hunting” season 2, episode 3.

Dive Deeper

Starred Review: Succession’ doesn’t miss a beat as its Murdochian family feud continues

CNN’s Brian Lowry raves about the third season, which premiered Sunday, writing that, “Success hasn’t spoiled Succession,’ as the Emmy-winning drama returns with all its Shakespearean and Murdochian overtones intact,” and calling it “HBO’s version of ‘Game of Thrones’ in sportscoats and loafers.” 

Where to Read: CNN

Further Listening: Slate Money on “Succession”

The excellent business and finance podcast Slate Money, hosted by Felix Salmon and Emily Peck, holds a special place in its heart for Succession. They recap and dissect the show each week during its run, considering such inside-business aspects as who the characters’ real-world counterparts are and whether Logan Roy is making smart business moves.

Where to Listen: Slate Money

Further Viewing: King Lear”

Director Richard Eyre adapts Shakespeare’s King Lear in this 2018 TV film starring Anthony Hopkins as the faltering patriarch deciding how to divide his kingdom among his three daughters. Eyre sets the tragedy in a dystopian near-future, making its parallels to both the Trump Era and Succession quite clear. 

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

Creator Jesse Armstrong and the Cast’s Peabody Acceptance for “Succession”

Where to Watch: PeabodyAwards.com

If you’ve enjoyed this, please subscribe to the weekly Peabody Finds newsletter here