I don’t remember exactly what Kotaku staff editor Natalie Degraffinried said a month ago when attempting to convince me to watch Succession. But knowing Natalie, I’m certain it involved some combination of “these white people” and “wild.” What I do remember was that she was the fourth or fifth black person in the last two months to implore me to watch this show, and each ask wasn’t “Hey, if you have the chance, you should check out this cool little show I’ve been watching” but “THESE WHITE PEOPLE ARE INSANE!”
Now, were each of these people that excited about the show, or did they just know me well enough to know this was the best way to convince me to watch a thing? I don’t know. But I just completed season one last night, and this was the best decision I’ve made since that time six summers ago when I ran out of ketchup and started putting BBQ sauce on fried fish sandwiches. (I don’t make many great decisions.)
The show is about the Roys, a Murdoch-ey family running a Fox News-ey media conglomerate; a universe where the poorest of the show’s regular characters are merely millionaires and not billionaires. And if watching the trials and tribulations of the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent sounds about as exciting as colonoscopy prep, I don’t blame you! I felt that way too! When the show premiered last year and I read some press about it, it felt like the screen equivalent of the meme where someone says or does a thing that literally no one asked for. Plus I’m a black American and a black Pittsburgher. I have three PhDs in whiteness studies and I’m doing coursework for a fourth. I know white people like beards know lint. How hoteps know ash. How Kappas know chapstick. Why would I need to know more?
But the beauty of Succession is that it’s both documentary and the cruelest of satires; it’s like opening the Maybach’s partition to reveal the sickness and boundless petty of each of the passengers. It reminds me of when I was seven and I visited the zoo for the first time. I’d read all the books and watched all the shows about how regal, sexy, and deadly the tigers and lions and shit were, and I was so excited to see them I gave myself hives. But when I got there all they did was sleep, shit, fuck, and stink, and I cried and wanted to go home.
The petty is the most crucial element here because I think we sometimes categorize the actions of a Rubert Murdoch or a Donald Trump or the still-not-yet-dead Koch brother as a cavernous, amorphous, and conspiratorial evil. (I know I’ve been guilty of that.) But these men and these families are much more small-minded than that; the decisions much less worldly and much more centered in id. They just want to be in power, to stay in power, and to horde it like chipmunks stashing acorns. And while this sort of ruthlessness results, eventually, in evil, it stems from picayune personal shit. Like for instance, a shuttle explosion in Episode 10 that happens because the launch was rushed. And the launch was rushed because the person in charge of it wanted his dad to see him do a cool thing during his sister’s wedding.
But we already knew that, and what makes Succession so watchable isn’t just its fly-on-the-wall-ishness—if we wanted a docu-drama on the Redstone family we could just, well, exist—but its satire. While the opulence is so ubiquitous that it’s mundane—it took me three episodes to realize that none of the Roys actually drive anywhere; they’re always driven—it’s less aspirational and more obscene. Vulgar. Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless. These are not good people, and Succession is an exploration of the depths of ungood shit they’re willing to say and do to each other and to themselves to angle for what amounts to pennies. (Well, pennies to them.) And some of this shit is fucking funny. Like, I thought we were done with the Culkin family. I drank the last drop of my Culkin family iced tea in 2009, I think. But Kieran Culkin’s hedonistic and performatively indifferent Roman Roy is basically darkest timeline Tony Stark. And you’re compelled to pity Jeremy Strong’s Kendall and how life for him is like Charlie Brown’s football. (Until, of course, you remember that he’s still a billionaire.) Also one of the main characters swallows himself during his own bachelor party. I won’t give you more context about that, which should be all the context you need about that.
Anyway, if none of this sounds interesting to you, that’s fine! I don’t blame you! Go do things other than watch this! I’ve always hated the zoo too!