Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you may have heard of the dark comedy Succession. It’s the most-watched TV show on HBO right now, according to streaming rating site FlixPatrol, which puts it ahead of the recently concluded first season of The Last of Us.
Though the first season was eclipsed by the Game of Thrones finale, Succession has been quietly and steadily collecting nominations and awards since 2018. Last year, it took home its second Emmy win for Outstanding Drama Series, beating shows like Better Call Saul, Stranger Things, and Ozark. The tight writing, exceptional acting, and punchy humor are among the many things that have endeared the show to us. Ironic, given that the characters are designed to be loathsome and entitled one-percenters.
Here’s everything you need to know before diving into Succession.
What Is Succession All About?
When you break Succession down into a simple genre, it’s really a family drama about Logan Roy and his four adult children. Logan is the aging founder and CEO of Waystar Royco, one of the most successful media conglomerates in the world. They own a Fox News-esque network and even expanded into theme parks and cruise lines. The pilot episode immediately poses the dilemma of the entire show: Who among the Roy children will take the helm at Waystar after their father?
But Succession is anything but simple, and the company’s process of finding a successor to its founder is not a straightforward matter of who was born first. Save for Connor, the eldest Roy and least interested in the business, the rest of the children—Kendall, Roman, and Shiv—have skin in the game. Through their own connections and motivations, they make power move after power move that will advance them in the succession battle.
What makes the Roy children’s individual campaigns for the coveted CEO position is the constant manipulation of their father. Logan has subjected his own kids to a lifetime of psychological abuse, believing it’s conditioning for running Waystar Royco in the future. One moment, he’s guaranteeing his children a shot at taking over and shutting them out of meetings the next. Logan Roy is the type of father who tells his children he loves them and asks them to f**k off in the same breath.
What Is Succession Based On?
Succession is a fictional drama series and is not based on a specific true story or person. However, the show’s creator, Jesse Armstrong, has been open about the people and families that have inspired the writing of the show and its characters. These include real-life media dynasties like the Murdochs, who owns News Corp, the Sulzberger clan, who runs The New York Times, and the Redstones behind ViacomCBS.
Armstrong has also mentioned that he drew inspiration from various sources, including Shakespearean dramas and classic literature, to create the complex and multi-dimensional characters that populate the world of Succession. Many of the things that happen on the show also portray the societal and political context of real life. Corporate rape scandals and coverups, for instance, are crucial to the plot and are also eerily familiar to what we’ve been hearing on the news.
While the show is not directly based on a real-life story, it does provide a fictionalized look at the inner workings of a wealthy and powerful family and the media empire they control. It gives the viewers a glimpse into the world of high-stakes corporate politics and the dynamics of family relationships under pressure. Plus, it questions how influential corporations and powerful individuals really are in society.
However, the crew of talented writers also didn’t want Succession to be as serious as the corporate underbelly it wants to depict, hence its sharp wit and darkly comedic tone. “I think you could have a version of the show that’s nihilistic and bleak that would be quite fun to write, but I don’t think it would be very fun to watch,” says writer and producer Jon Brown in an interview with The Guardian. Think of it as the Financial District to the West Wing of the political satire Veep, where Armstrong served as a writer for its first four seasons. The comedy is dialed down by a few notches, but the writing is similarly fast-paced and punchy.
Who Are the Main Cast and Characters of Succession?
Succession has a large ensemble cast of talented and experienced actors. They’ve done a fantastic job of playing these roles that you can’t imagine the cast being anyone else.
These are the main cast and characters who appear in all four seasons of Succession:
Brian Cox as Logan Roy
Logan Roy is the patriarch of the Roy family and CEO of Waystar Royco. He’s a ruthless and powerful businessman likened to Rupert Murdoch of News Corp. He’s a man who will do whatever it takes to protect his company and maintain control of his empire, even if it means hurting his children. He is a complex and multi-dimensional character whose personal and professional lives are often intertwined.
The character is played by the captivating Brian Cox, who has had a long and distinguished career on stage, film, and television. The Scottish actor has been widely praised for his intense and complex performance as Logan Roy in Succession and won several awards, including a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Television Series Drama.
Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy
Through method acting, Jeremy Strong brought Kendall Roy and his dramatic character arc to life. He is Logan’s second eldest child and firstborn in his second marriage. At the start of the show, it’s obvious that Ken has the most experience as an executive and is the heir apparent to Logan.
But Kendall’s biggest roadblock, apart from his own father, is himself. His own personal demons, including drug addiction and a god complex, stand in the way of his own ascension at Waystar. He’s a complicated and multifaceted character who is both driven and vulnerable. Kendall is often caught between his loyalty to his family and his desire to strike out on his own.
Sarah Snook as Shiv Roy
Sarah Snook, an Australian actress, is best known for her role as Shiv. As the only daughter, Shiv has always had to fight for her place at the table. She starts as a political strategist in the pilot season of Succession, which is her way of distancing herself from what she really wants: to take over the company.
Shiv’s character arc is based on her finally acknowledging that she wants a chance at running Waystar, believing herself to be more qualified than her brothers. She’s a strong and independent woman in a male-dominated industry and family, and her story arc is one of the most intriguing and complex in the series.
Kieran Culkin as Roman Roy
In Succession, former child actor Kieran Culkin plays the role of Roman Roy, the youngest son of Logan and a high-level executive at Waystar Royco. He’s a witty and cynical character who can be as ruthless as the rest of his family.
Roman is considered by everyone, including Logan, to be immature and ill-prepared to become CEO, and is often passed over for his brother. But he has shown time and again that he actually has a killer gut instinct in business. However, he struggles with asserting himself as well as forming healthy personal relationships.
Alan Ruck as Connor Roy
Connor Roy is the next president of the United States—or so he thinks. Played brilliantly by Alan Ruck, Logan’s firstborn from his first marriage is the most eccentric character on Succession. He runs for office on a no-tax platform, pays an escort to become his girlfriend, and gives his dad a sourdough starter as a birthday gift.
Though portrayed as out of touch, Connor might actually be the most sensitive and perceptive among the Roys. He understands his place in the family and tries to carve out a meaningful role for himself elsewhere. His relationship with Willa is easily the healthiest and most supportive among the other relationships portrayed in Succession.
Matthew Macfadyen as Tom Wambsgans
British actor Matthew Macfadyen plays the role of Tom Wambsgans, another high-level exec at Waystar and Shiv’s husband. He’s a hapless and often clueless person who is caught up in the power struggles and intrigues of the Roy family.
He’s often used as a pawn by other characters, including his wife, in their efforts to gain an advantage. But he’s also ambitious and willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead. Tom, a Minnesota native, is willing to compromise his own values and beliefs in order to gain favor with Logan.
Nicholas Braun as Greg Hirsch
A former Disney actor, Nicholas Braun is now widely known as Greg Hirsch. He’s a cousin of the Roy children who manages to worm his way into the family business. Despite his lack of power and influence, Greg is portrayed as being ambitious like Tom. He is, however, not as cunning as Tom is and is often used as a pawn by his mentor.
J. Smith-Cameron as Gerri Kellman
Initially a recurring character, Gerri is now a staple in Succession episodes. She is introduced as Logan’s legal counsel and one of his most trusted advisors. Played by veteran actress J. Smith-Cameron, Gerri is one of the most level-headed characters and rarely participates in the volley of insults and mind games.
However, the show tests Gerri’s loyalty to Logan and her commitment to the company. She also forms an inappropriate relationship with Roman, which shows that even the most professional people have plenty of secrets.
When and Where Can I Watch Succession?
Succession is an HBO original series available on their streaming platform HBO Max. It’s currently in its fourth and final season, with new episodes dropping every Sunday at 9 PM EST.
Except for season three, which only has nine episodes, the rest of the seasons have ten. Run time is approximately 60 minutes per episode, and though that might sound like a lot, it’s a highly binge-worthy TV show. Shocking plot twists? Check. Believable character development? Check. Lies and deception? Check and check. You won’t take long too catch up to the final few episodes of the series.