I’m about to articulate one of the most controversial opinions of 2023, so do whatever you need to brace yourself: I’ve never really got Succession. Before you start, yes, I can see that it’s good. Yes, I can see that it is sumptuous, dense and brilliant, and that at its best it has some of the finest dialogue not just on TV now but on TV ever. I know it’s a thinly veiled portrait of the Murdochs and it’s whip-smart and Machiavellian.
But, sometimes, watching it I feel as if I’m being cornered at a party by someone telling me about a non-fiction book I “have to read” while I watch other people laughing and having fun. It feels clever in the same way that putting your hand up and saying the right answer in a classroom is clever: in a smug and self-satisfied way. Truly, over three seasons, I’m not sure Succession has ever matched the dagger-like family dynamics of the Christmas episode of Peep Show that preceded it. I know you like it when Logan Roy growls “Fuck off”, but it’s no “Cauliflower is traditional!” and it never will be.
Season four, then (Monday 27 March, Sky Atlantic), and time for me to swallow great mouthfuls of humble pie. We open with soaring drone shots of California; we watch New York City twinkle from afternoon to night. The Roy family are at war – it was ever thus – and different factions are sorted into different sides that could shift over the course of a single private-jet phone call. There’s some business going on, but that never really actually matters. Roman is still slimily upfront, cousin Greg still blinks into every room as if it’s his first day on Earth, Shiv is playing five different sides and coming out on the bottom of every one, Kendall is in resplendent tech bro form, a $600 plain black cap and some stuttered blue-sky thinking. I’m convinced Brian Cox has never read a Succession script and just goes around like that. I’m convinced that Alan Ruck’s loser-fantasist Connor is actually the glue that sticks this whole machine together.
It’s great that it’s a lot of quite nasty, unlikable people being funny. It’s great that it uses every second of the hour allotted to it, and I leave every episode feeling breathless with how much just happened. And that I never ever know what’s going on, and every time I feel as if I might just get it, a new character calls in on speakerphone and erupts everything all over again. And that there are loads of helicopters.
Another great thing is its portrayal of money, which I always thought I wanted – it would be nice to have a swimming pool and not have to worry about anything – but in the Roy family, it seems like hell. You are constantly pulled into meetings, nobody ever gives a straight answer, you can’t even trust the people you’re having sex with and despite being rich you still have to stay at work really late. I’m not sure it’s worth having three phones and a dad who hates you for that.
A note on season four being the last: it has to be for three reasons. First, it is simply not sustainable to see these characters U-turn then U-turn then U-turn again. One of the key dramas of this show is watching as each of the three children crawl sheepishly back to Daddy, often at their own behest, and there’s only so many times we can watch that happen before all disbelief is suspended. (Do you really want to watch Kendall implode again? Come on! What’s wrong with you?)
Second, what makes watching these horrible people be horrible to one another satisfying is the calm knowledge that, by the time everything shakes out, there will be one barely deserving winner and several embittered losers – it is very much like a dramatised version of The Apprentice. There’s only so long this can go on for without that closure, and four 10-episode seasons feels about right.
Third, and most crucially: all the generationally classic TV shows need to end on their own terms, before a quality nosedive affects their own legacy (see: Apprentice, The). Based on the glittering episodes I’ve seen so far, Succession intends to go out on a peak that people will still be talking about in 20 or 30 years.
I know this is annoying, and I know this is just something smart people say to make them sound even smarter but: there really is nothing like Succession on TV.
• The headline and text of this article were amended on 30 March 2023 to change two uses of “glimmering” to “glittering”, in order to reflect the intended meaning.