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‘Succession’ — when Westeros becomes Wall Street

| Wednesday, September 11, 2019

JOSEPH HAN | The Observer

As HBO’s record and heart-breaking series “Game of Thrones” came to its regrettable conclusion this past May, I found myself looking for a show both to fill the hole its finale left in my heart and to make my HBO subscription worth it.

So, as any good capitalist would, I decided to jump on the first advertisement HBO threw at me after the “Game of Thrones” finale and began watching that. I saw a lot of good looking, middle-aged men in expensive suits; an old man emptying his bladder onto a beige-colored shag carpet; presumably two brothers exchanging volleys of curse words at one another; and a boardroom with quite a bit of tension and no discernible smiles. The show I began is called “Succession.” It is currently airing episodes of its second season every Sunday night at 9 p.m. and, in my incredibly humble opinion, it is one of the best and, without a doubt, most underrated shows on television.

The Emmy-nominated series, which is now five episodes deep into its second season, is not too dissimilar from “Game of Thrones.” It tells the story of the fictitious, international media conglomerate of Waystar Royco, focusing on the patriarch and founder of the company Logan Roy and his family, who are all, in one way or another, involved in the company or, at the very least, invested in its fortunes. No dragons, no medieval battles and no army of the undead slowly gaining numbers. So, no, not a direct comparison to “Game of Thrones,” but cue the conflict and the similarities become a bit clearer.

Logan Roy (Brian Cox) is getting older and considering stepping down from his throne at the helm of Waystar Royco. His cleaned-up drug addict son Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) has been groomed to succeed him; his dimwitted, money-numb son Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) wants in on the action or, at least, a paycheck; his brilliant, desperate-to-distance-herself-from-the-family-business daughter Siobhan Roy (Sarah Snook) is working for a politician that publicly wants to dismantle her family business; and his somewhat estranged son Connor Roy (Alan Ruck) is tending his ranch in New Mexico hoping that money keeps flowing in. Everyone wants in on a piece of the action and are all eager to force their — they might say senile — father out of the company, perhaps before he is ready to. A young tech hotshot, venture capital firms and members of the board only make the dynamic all the more interesting.

The show gives the audience a peculiar look into the world of the ultra-elite. Every character on the show has more money than they know what to do with, yet they all want something more: power, a job title, reputation. The throne is atop a skyscraper in New York City, and the fight for it is just as vicious and conniving as that which takes place on “Game of Thrones.”

The show makes the often complex world of business, media and aristocracy digestible and engaging in a way I have yet to see any other show do. Yet, it also seems to find a balance between drama and humor that series of its genre typically lack. With “The Big Short” director Adam McKay and comedian Will Ferrell working as executive producers, the show is ripe with witty one-liners and comic relief lining the tense, cutting plot.

Quality writing, however, only translates onto the screen when brilliant actors perform it. Both the main and recurring cast give stellar performances week after week while developing their characters in specific, meticulous ways. Adults who spent their childhood with access to a no-limits credit card act a bit differently than the rest of us. Culkin plays that elusive brat to perfection, Strong’s character screams, “I used to do very expensive cocaine,” Snook always carries herself with an air of almost unfulfilled pride, and it is fairly easy to tell that Cox’s character built a company whereas the characters of his children inherited it.

So, “Succession” may not be that “Game of Thrones” season nine that we all so desperately want. But if you’re okay with turning in your armor for tailored suits, your alliances for business acquisitions and your undead army for a pack of hostile venture capitalists, then it might just be the show for you. The characters may happen to have the moral compasses of White Walkers, but they can’t turn into them.

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