Only a few minutes into HBO’s new corporate family drama “Succession,” I found myself wondering who, exactly, was supposed to enjoy this slog of a series. Would average Americans want to watch a proxy for the uber-rich Murdoch family squabble over who gets slightly more millions of dollars? Would wealthy viewers revel in an unflattering portrayal of their lives? Are the actors themselves even having any fun?
Dull, dreary and dubiously written, “Succession” isn’t much of a success. The joyless series centers on the patriarch of a media empire whose selfish, privileged family is a mess after he has a stroke, with each son, daughter and spouse scrambling in a power grab. It has all the profanity and self-importance of “The Big Short” (directed, like the “Succession” pilot, by Adam McKay) or “The Wolf of Wall Street,” with none of those films’ levity or bite.
The dynasty at the center of “Succession” just isn’t interesting enough to sustain a series. The de facto protagonist is Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong, “The Big Short”), the son of Logan Roy (Brian Cox), the Rupert Murdoch stand-in who heads an empire of newspapers, TV stations and theme parks. Kendall is set to take over his father’s domain, but at the last second, on his 80th birthday, Dad changes his mind and declares he’ll stay in the CEO spot. He also fires his longtime chief operating officer and friend, and instead promotes his other conniving son, Roman (Kieran Culkin).
Just a few hours after throwing a wrench into the, well, line of succession, Logan keels over in a helicopter and lies comatose in a hospital, provoking his children and board of directors into action to find an interim CEO.
It’s about as interesting as an actual corporate board meeting. As much as the series, created by Jesse Armstrong (“In the Loop”), tries to turn the Roy family into a modern-day feuding Lannister clan, their infighting is just plain boring. The plot tries to twist and turn and shock with intrigue, but inevitably the drama hinges on whether the characters are going to sign a contract, or how many millions they’ll spend to buy a company. There’s just no spark to the plot.
It doesn’t help that the characters are odious and impossible to connect with. Kendall might be sympathetic if he didn’t threaten the head of a website he was trying to buy or try to manipulate his way into the top job while his father is in the hospital. The same is true for Roman, a jerk who plays cruel games with the son of an employee, and their sister Shiv (Sarah Snook), an unfortunate stereotype of a cold, calculating businesswoman.
There might be an interesting, thought-provoking story about a corporate dynasty, but “Succession” is certainly not it. Nor can we delight in watching these terrible people squirm. It’s just a group of vacuous rich people shouting at each other, probably not making much of a sound.
9 p.m. Sundays on HBO