Stars: Hiam Abbass, Nicholas Braun, Brian Cox, Kieran Culkin, Peter Friedman, Natalie Gold, Matthew Macfadyen, Alan Ruck, Sarah Snook, Jeremy Strong, Rob Yang, Dagmara Domińczyk, Arian Moayed, J. Smith-Cameron
There is a near endless amount one could effuse about Succession Season 2. We could talk about how thoroughly it pulls off the Devil’s Greatest Trick: compelling us to invest in the squabbles and fates of rich white people, even in these times of creatives of color gaining more freedom to present new and heretofore under-represented stories and perspectives. We could highlight how it’s just one of the eight series on this list whose widespread acclaim rebukes the idea—silly but nonetheless widespread at the top of the year—that the Home Box Office network would be dead in the water post-Game of Thrones. (And now that you’re at slide 1, do take note of what did not make the cut.) We could talk about how it’s the latest in a long line of series to challenge the genre binary establishment, inciting many a debate of whether it’s a “comedy” or a “drama.” (It’s a very funny drama, please.)
But that’s all fluff. Filling. Fat. To quote Logan Roy, the terse patriarch of the series’ Murdoch-esque clan: what’s the protein? That is to say, the meat, the core, the heart of the argument. What is the thesis, how is Succession king among the 400-odd fiction series this year?
Succession Season 2’s greatness is intangible, maybe even imperial. The still-nascent series unlocked a gear only few series achieve, especially in real-time: just three weeks into its run, the question quickly evolved from whether a given episode was great, to how great. The sophomore season represents an opportunity to fumble and slump—or double down and go further, faster and harder. The first six episodes of Season 2 (I will allow that 7 and 8 aren’t quite perfect, but even an imperfect episode still has L to the OG, so really, how imperfect is it?) is everything great about Season 1 dialed up to 10 and firing on all cylinders.
This isn’t a series reveling in the narcissistic muck of the 1%. The riches are matter-of-fact; the lack of any establishing shots within any Roy family member’s penthouse reminds me of how Oliver Stone opted to do the same for Bud Fox’s multi-million dollar abode in Wall Street, the better to display the house as just another asset failing to fill our protagonists’ cold dead heart. The Roys, especially the eternally nouveau-riche Logan, may not know the bard off top, but their inter-familial power plays—which only pause to solidify against external threats—are as deliciously, indelibly Shakespearean as they come. Wearing its King Lear aspirations on its sleeve would render a lesser show basic and predictable, Succession is, anchored by a palpably dead-eyed Jeremy Strong putting up several Emmy reel performances, tragically inevitable. The fatal allure of a proximity to wealth, the cosmic trap that is growing up within it, the un-bridgeable divide between second-generation silver spoons and their father, forever haunted by his sacrifices and formative years spent struggling: all themes explored on the periphery as the series races through plots like a ticking clock buyout that has all the nail-biting intensity of 24. As Strong’s numb and neutered would-be prodigal son spent a season re-examining family loyalty and waking up to realize the only way to truly obtain respect, Succession gave us hit episode after hit episode. The Roy family may be too New Money to appreciate Shakespeare, but in creator Jesse Armstrong’s hands, the tales of their rise and fall are thrilling theater. If you're still hesitant about joining the ever-widening bandwagon, allow me to quote the bard: Take the fucking money. —Frazier Tharpe