TV Review: ‘Succession’ Hits the Ground Running with Excellent Blend of Comedy and Tension

Succession Season 2 Brian Cox

Last year, “Succession” found its way into the hearts of audiences despite too many shows with similar plots already in the market. After all, similar series like “Billions” and “Arrested Development” already covered the exploits of obscenely rich petulant children. Did we really need another series that tapped this vein? The answer has been a resounding yes since the word go. Thanks to its stellar cast, “Succession” became one of HBO‘s Emmy hopefuls and earned itself a Best Drama Series nomination. With the new season getting off to a fast start, look for the exploits of the Roy family to keep the TV academy interested.

The season kicks off with Kendall (Jeremy Strong) detoxing in Iceland, only to get pulled away for an interview. He’s an absolute mess, shrinking into an oversized chair that feels like it was pulled from the set of “Blue’s Clues.” He grips onto the seat, desperately trying to hold onto something after a whirlwind forty-eight hours. “Succession” wastes no time letting audiences know he’s lost something since he drove a car into a river last season, killing a busboy in the process. His father Logan (Brian Cox), sister Shiv (Sarah Snook) and brother Roman (Kieran Culkin) watch his performance from around the world. As Kendall attempts to fix everything he broke last season, Logan ponders whether it’s worth keeping his company at all.

The success of “Succession” hinges on the four key performers. Strong, Cox, Snook and Culkin determine every event, moment and joke in the series. The premiere gives each of them standout moments to build upon as the season progresses. Strong continues to give one of the most underrated performances on television. Creating the physical embodiment of disappointing your parents cannot be easy. And the actor adds the veil of a drug problem, making Kendall maniac, twitchy, and paranoid. Yet Strong holds it all together, delivering physical and vocal cues that showcase his issues with drugs while maintaining his charisma as an executive in a multimedia conglomerate.

Last season, Snook electrified the screen and was one of the key cogs in the overall show’s turning gears. Her ambition as Shiv bleeds through in her performance, but she knows how to keep her cards close to her chest. Her dynamic with each of her brothers unlocks different keys in her repertoire. Yet her ability to get vulnerable around her father gives way to an emotional turn. Hopefully, the Emmys can recognize the strength of her role next year.

Succession Season 2 Sarah Snook

Culkin and Cox get the majority of the best comedic moments in the premiere. Cox brings an intensity to the role that comes out like a caged animal. His scheming and ability to lay a trap never ceases to amaze. Like a conductor, he knows how to use every instrument in his orchestra, or in this case his family, to perfection. Cox’s portrayal leaves audiences on the edge of their seats because there’s genuinely no way to know what will come next.

Succession Season 2 Sarah Snook Kieran Culkin

Meanwhile, Culkin gets to be pithy, upset and cynical. It’s an excellent way to bring humor into the show. Yet Culkin layers in some true frustration and unhappiness into line readings that elevate the material. It can be subtle, but thanks to big swings as a comedian, these moments pop. Truly one of the funniest performances in a Drama Series, he’s an actor to behold.

The rest of the cast, including Matthew MacfadyenNicholas Braun, and Alan Ruck do not get as much to do in the pilot. Each contributes some great moments, especially Braun’s misadventures in buying cocaine and Ruck’s bid for Napoleon’s genitalia. Yet each has standout potential depending on the episode. Macfadyen, in particular, will take over an episode or two at a time, making his role one of the great characters on TV.

Succession Season 2 Brian Cox and Jeremy Strong

Once again, Jesse Armstrong and his writing team kick the show into high gear. They know how to handle the financial obscurities of mega-corporations and make them interesting drama. Armstrong’s team does not get their due despite the degree of difficulty. Showing a hostile takeover would be fun, but watching the chess game the writers have laid down on the board makes for better long-term storytelling.

While we may not know the overall quality of the show until the final frames of this season, it remains clear that “Succession” deserves to be discussed as one of the great shows on television today. Mixing high drama with low and pithy comedy does not come easy. But with “Succession,” you’ll see a virtuosic use of both.

What did you think of the “Succession” premiere? Who do you think will run the company at the end of the day? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

GRADE: (★★★★)