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‘Succession’: In Season 3 of HBO series, actors keep getting better as their characters’ deeds get worse

The privileged, awful offspring of Logan Roy have to choose sides during the return of one of the best series on TV.

Season 3 of “Succession” begins with the aftermath of Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong, center, in sunglasses) betraying his family.
HBO

We’re up to Season 3 of the wickedly funny and pitch-black and wildly entertaining “Succession” on HBO, and I’m still obsessing over the opening title sequence like it’s the Zapruder film of lurid series about terrible and terribly wealthy people.

With swirling string music and an angry piano pounding on the soundtrack, we alternate between modern-day footage of Manhattan and the TV news business and glimpses of sepia-toned home movies of the rich and powerful Roy clan on their enormous estate.

Family patriarch Logan Roy is seen from behind or as a shadowy figure, while his four young children take tennis lessons as butlers look on, line up wearing dress-up clothes and take an elephant ride. There’s never a moment when their parents embrace them or smile with them or even acknowledge them. They’re like miniature extras in the movie of Logan Roy’s life.

Cut to three decades later, with Brian Cox’s Logan running an international media empire while fending off federal investigations, mounting financial issues and health complications — and his four grown children are STILL desperate for Daddy’s approval even though they’ve been shown time and time again that their father will curry their favor and bring them in close and tell them how much they mean to him when he needs them, but he’ll still cast them aside like yesterday’s trash if they prove to be incompetent or an impediment.

We almost feel sorry for them. Almost.

But they’re all so wonderfully awful, so narcissistic and duplicitous, we’re not rooting for anybody. But we’re kinda rooting for everyone because that’s how it works with great shows about irredeemable people, from “The Sopranos” to “Game of Thrones,” from “Breaking Bad” to “Billions.”

Season 3 picks up just after the stunning developments of the Season 2 finale, when Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong, once again doing Emmy-level work) betrayed his father and the entire family by refusing to fall on his sword and instead calling a press conference to implicate his father in a coverup involving egregious sexual crimes committed in Waystar Royco’s cruise line division.

With Kendall riding the high of his spectacular coup but also unsure about how to proceed, Logan and his children Siobhan a.k.a. Shiv (Sarah Snook), Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Connor (Alan Ruck), along with key members of the inner circle including Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) and Frank (Peter Friedman), go into crisis mode, scrambling to stay one step ahead of the feds while plotting how to maintain control of the company.

As always, though, everyone is looking out for themselves.

So the snarky Roman and the politically savvy Shiv secretly meet with Kendall to see whether they should switch alliances, while the hapless Connor sees this latest family crisis as a means to strengthening his Don Quixote-esque bid for the presidency.

Shiv (Sarah Snook) positions herself as loyal to her father, Logan (Brian Cox), but also explores a shift in alliances.
HBO

“Succession” is a great-looking show with feature film-level production design and cinematography, breathtakingly gorgeous (and obscenely lavish) location shoots and constant reminders these people are immensely privileged and yet never seem to enjoy a moment of it. All they care about is power grabs and revenge, positioning themselves for the future and saving their own behinds.

The main ensemble gets better with each season. And there’s the usual allotment of first-rate guest stars, including Sanaa Lathan as a brilliant, high-powered attorney everyone wants on their side, Adrien Brody as a key shareholder who toys with the family, Alexander Skarsgard as an eccentric tech billionaire (what a thing!) and Dasha Nekrasova and Jihae as cynical and slick crisis management experts who are hired by Kendall to bolster his public image. There’s such a rich array of characters and so many complex and interesting relationships popping up everywher, that every episode of “Succession” leaves us wanting more.

We recognize more than a touch of the Murdoch and Trump families in the Roy clan. Logan has clear parallels to Rupert Murdoch, while there’s a touch of Donald Jr. in Kendall and Ivanka in Shiv.

Mostly, though, this is a bold and original work, with great acting and razor-sharp writing. And it’s among the best series in the world right now.