Why is Succession so popular?

Succession is a three-season family saga made for HBO and written by Jesse Armstrong. It’s received a plethora of awards and award nominations, including a BAFTA and an Emmy. The Guardian recently described the season three finale as “sheer, sinister perfection.”

I remember seeing the trailer for the first season, back in 2018. It made Succession look like a snoozefest. A bunch of Americans in suits, fighting over who will lead a media empire. What a bore! Who wants to watch that? I’m so glad there was nothing else on telly that night. The first episode was excellent. I’d never seen anything like it.

Succession is such a successful drama because of the characters. The main players are Scottish media tycoon Logan Roy and his four adult children: Connor, Kendall, Shiv and Roman. Logan is a self-made billionaire from Dundee, an untrustworthy tyrant and a despairing father. His American kids are messed up. Born into money, they’ve never had to make their own way in the world.

It’s no fun watching a show when you don’t like the characters. I never thought I’d like the Roys, but I love them all. Logan is as compelling as a Jurassic Park dinosaur written by Shakespeare. The children are vulnerable, lost, and would be so much happier if they stopped wanting their father’s approval.

If I had to describe Succession in one word, it would be Jacobean. Like the Jacobean dramas of early 17th-century England the show has a darkly cynical outlook. It feels just as blood soaked too. You never know which Roy is about to run a metaphorical sword through a loved one. Some reviewers quite rightly describe Succession as biblical and Shakespearean. The betrayals have such a grand, magnificent feel to them.

Of course, it helps the series’s success that the main and supporting cast are all brilliant actors. For much of the time my favourite Succession actor is Kieran Culkin. His character Roman Roy is fabulously, delightfully and appallingly rude. Jeremy Strong is also fantastic as the vulnerable and cringe-inducing Kendall Roy.

If you’re watching the show for the first time, do watch out for the wonderful J. Smith-Cameron. She plays senior executive Gerri Kellman. Sensible and solidly reliable Gerri is very easy to overlook. She’s not rude, flawed or comical. But the character has real steel and is perhaps Logan Roy’s only true equal. I’m very keen to see what happens to Gerri in Succession season four.

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