The season finale of HBO’s new corporate drama Succession airs Sunday night, and really, it’s best you devote some time to catching up. But don’t watch Succession because it’s a great drama — binge it because it’s, at least in part, a deranged dark comedy.
Succession is a Serious Drama about a billionaire family whose members are all vying for control of its aging patriarch’s media empire, Waystar Royco. It’s got all the things that make for a good HBO ensemble drama: fancy outfits, traumatic pasts, complex antiheroes, multi-stranded narratives.
But what makes it great — and not just another tiresome HBO slog about white men — is that Succession is low-key darkly hilarious, which actually complicates the show as a whole. The fact that it pairs high drama (and high production values) with unflinching oddball characters and demented storylines is what makes Succession interesting, and worth watching.
I almost don’t want to tell you this. The seeming anachronism of the comedy is part of what makes the jokes, and the show, so good. While discovering the show’s comedic underbelly in the second episode, I remember laughing out loud, with my mouth agape and eyes wide, wondering, what the HELL are these jokes doing here?!
For example, the need to destroy evidence of corporate misdeeds turns into an Office Space-reminiscent adventure in shredding — complete with a melodic shredding mantra muttered under the breath of the show’s funniest (and best) character, Cousin Greg. The sadistic jokes of Tom (played by a perfectly disturbed Matthew Macfadyen), are like jarring life boats at every tense family dinner, that just confuse and disgust the characters, but provide sweet LOLs for viewers.
The antics of MacFadyen’s Tom Wamsgans and Nicholas Braun’s Greg Hirsch provide most of the comic relief for the show. But I hesitate to call it “comic relief,” because their inclusion is so much more significant than the aside jokes usually present in a drama.
The straight characters have to constantly interact with these out-of-place weirdos. Their presence — along with Alan Ruck’s conniving simpleton Connor Roy — fundamentally changes the tone of the show from one that takes itself too seriously, to one that’s in on the joke about the absurdity of the world it’s depicting.
Succession isn’t a parody of a corporate and family drama. It’s more like a drama, refracted through a fun house mirror, with good acting and well-developed story undermined and thus made better by comedy that satirizes the ridiculousness of the corporate world and the ultra-rich.
So yes, watch Succession for the ensemble cast and the well-written script. But devour it for the unhinged zaniness it brings to your small screen, and all the terrible, terribly rich, people within it.
The season finale of Succession airs this weekend, on Sunday, Aug. 5 at 10:00 p.m. ET, so there’s no better time to catch up.