Damien Love’s TV highlights plus seven-day pro­gramme guide

Suc­ces­sion Thurs­day, 9pm Sky Atlantic

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Contents -

TEN years ago, a film script by Jesse Arm­strong, the co-cre­ator of Peep Show, started to garner a lot of at­ten­tion in Hol­ly­wood. This wasn’t sim­ply be­cause ev­ery­one who read it thought it was very good, but also be­cause they all agreed on another point: it would never get made, be­cause it was about one of the world’s most pow­er­ful me­dia ty­coons:

Ru­pert Murdoch.

More specif­i­cally, it was about the whole Murdoch fam­ily. Set on a sin­gle day, it saw the ex­tended brood con­fronting the ques­tion of what would hap­pen when the mogul died, or oth­er­wise re­lin­quished con­trol of his em­pire, with a host of in­ternecine power strug­gles erupt­ing into the open. The rea­sons the script was never filmed are clear enough – most of them are lawyers – but, a decade on, Arm­strong might be glad it never got the green light. Be­cause it seems that, much like Ru­pert Murdoch him­self, his script’s cen­tral idea still hasn’t quite gone away. But in the in­ter­ven­ing years, it has seeded, mu­tated and bloomed into some­thing more awk­ward, less tied down, and po­ten­tially more in­ter­est­ing.

It’s not dif­fi­cult to trace the roots of Suc­ces­sion,

Arm­strong’s new se­ries, back to the old Murdoch idea. Pro­duced by HBO in the US, it fo­cuses on the fic­tional Lo­gan Roy (a gift for Brian Cox, given a rare chance in a US pro­duc­tion to air his Scottish ac­cent), another age­ing me­dia mag­nate who started life out­side Amer­ica, and who built his com­pany, Waystar Royco, into a globe-strad­dling con­glom­er­ate that in­cludes right-leaning news­pa­pers and ca­ble-news net­works, as well as film and TV stu­dios.

As his 80th birth­day dawns, the ques­tion of to whom Lo­gan should hand the reins hangs heavy over his var­i­ously screwed-up fam­ily. The most ob­vi­ous can­di­dates in­clude his two sons from his sec­ond mar­riage, both al­ready jock­ey­ing for power at Waystar: Ken­dall (Jeremy Strong), a re­cov­er­ing drug ad­dict who’s not quite the busi­ness al­pha-mon­ster he pre­tends; and Ro­man (a sly Kieran Culkin), a lazy, pam­pered play­boy.

Mean­while, their sis­ter, Siob­han (Sarak Snook), known to all by her pointed nick­name “Shiv”, is go­ing her own way, work­ing as a po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant – but her fi­ancé, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), is a Waystar ex­ec­u­tive, and courting Lo­gan’s favour as much as he is his daugh­ter. Then again, there’s Lo­gan’s son from his first mar­riage, Connor (Alan Ruck), a fam­ily out­sider who has set up as a Zen-like rancher; and Lo­gan’s third and cur­rent wife, Mar­cia (the great Hiam Abass), whose mo­tives re­main mys­te­ri­ous.

Things are com­pli­cated, and, as the show be­gins, grow more so. In­stead of an­nounc­ing he’s step­ping down as an­tic­i­pated, Lo­gan abruptly de­clares he in­tends to con­tinue as Waystar’s CEO. Then, as a real pow­er­play dog­fight be­gins, yet fur­ther com­pli­ca­tions arise, as age takes its toll, and Lo­gan’s fit­ness to stay in power comes into ques­tion.

It’s the stuff of Shake­spearean tragedy, but Suc­ces­sion bal­ances be­tween drama and com­edy: King Lear goes Ar­rested De­vel­op­ment. It doesn’t al­ways get the tone right, but it’s the way it shak­ily tips one way then the other that gives it its un­easy en­ergy. Arm­strong was one of the core writ­ers on The Thick Of It, and it shows, not just in the ex­plod­ing ex­ple­tives that punc­tu­ate di­a­logue, or the scat­ter­ing, jit­ter­ing hand­held cam­er­a­work, but in Suc­ces­sion’s whole at­ti­tude. It shares the slick, su­per-rich Man­hat­tan set­tings of a show like Bil­lions, but not the guilty plea­sure gaze. Ev­ery­thing has a nas­tier, darker, chill­ier, more claus­tro­pho­bic edge, made more pi­quant by oc­ca­sional hints of grudg­ing sym­pa­thy for th­ese hideous char­ac­ters. It’s a foxy piece of busi­ness.

Photograph: Gor­don Ter­ris

Scottish artist Bar­bara Rae

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