HBO's "Succession" is the lone recommendation this week — but it's worth it.
I know I've talked a lot about the launch of HBO Max in this intro recently — but I'm going to do it again.
The launch is May 27, and as we approach the date, HBO keeps revealing new things to attract customers. This week's big news is that Zack Snyder will be bringing his mythic cut of "Justice League" to the service in 2021. There's a whole backstory to this that I don't feel like getting into — Vulture has you covered, if you're curious — but if you happen to like Snyder or his films, well, it's your lucky day.
Much more interesting, to me, is the news that the service is also offering a large number of Criterion Collection films at launch. If you're a new film head, the Criterion Collection is an organization that aims to bring "important classic and contemporary films" to a wide audience. It has rare editions of films and complete box sets for purchase, and it has a streaming service of its own, but this deal will bring many more eyes to these films. The films coming to HBO Max include a bunch of things on my "older films I haven't seen but tell people I have to sound impressive and cultured" list, like "The 400 Blows" and "8 1/2," but it also includes more recent films like "Funny Games" and "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me."
Here's the full list, plus a bunch of other things coming to the service. It's an incredibly impressive launch offering. Of all the streaming services that have launched in the last year or so, I think this one has the best chance to unseat Netflix at the top. It offers so many things for so many types of viewers, and that's on top of HBO's own original content, which has always been far above that of any other premium channel/service, on average, in terms of quality. We'll see what the reception is like at launch, but I'm quite excited for it.
Only one recommendation this week — on HBO, what else? — but because it's the only thing I wanted to talk about, you know it's a good one.
HBO, rated TV-MA, 20 episodes, 20 hours of content
Not only does it slap, but it fits the show like tailored Armani suit. It starts with rolling piano keys and a trap beat courtesy of a drum machine, setting the tone with a feeling of being on the streets of New York. It then introduces a lush strings section, something you usually hear as part of an orchestral performance, if you can afford to attend such things. It's representative of the rich. Mix that with the New York hip-hop beat, and you get "Succession": beautiful and a little threatening. It's not hard to picture Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong), a noted rap fan, staring out of his cushy office's window at the masses walking the streets below while the show's theme song bubbles in the background.
The Roys, with almost no exceptions, are horrible people. They are cutthroat and opportunistic and have no loyalty, and yet … you can't help but like them anyway, or at least a few of them, including Kendall, the closest thing the show has to a true protagonist. For all his faults — and there are many — he at least tries to be decent. He wants to be a good father to his two kids. He wants Waystar Royco, the family's multibillion-dollar business, to be the best company it can be. He wants his family to get along. Unfortunately for Kendall, he is extremely good at messing things up in ways that ensure none of his goals will become reality.
Not that it would matter. Even if he were competent, he's still got to deal with his father, Logan (Brian Cox), who built the company from nothing into much more than something. Waystar Royco isn't based on any one real-life company, but you can think of it like if The Walt Disney Company was run by Rupert Murdoch. Logan only cares about having power because having power means you have control, and to him, that's something to be admired. To a lesser extent, he also cares about money, but not really: Early in the series, we learn Logan has potentially landed the company $3 billion in debt (hinging on the company's stock performance) thanks to the egregious terms of a loan, and he's been ignoring the problem for years. He just wants to influence the world from behind the scenes, a demon taking possession of the country's psyche.
When Logan toys with retiring and handing the company to Kendall on Logan's 80th birthday, one of Kendall's recent mistakes causes him to renege on the plan. He soon after suffers a brain hemorrhage, which lands him in the hospital. This causes a series of events that leads to Kendall and his siblings — brothers Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Connor (Alan Ruck) and sister Shiv (Sarah Snook) — to question Logan's leadership and ponder a mutiny.
Speaking of the siblings, they all have their own things going on. Roman talks a big game but has no backbone, something that has him kicked out of the company when the show begins. Shiv carved her own path, choosing to work in politics as a strategic advisor for various Democrats, going against both her father's wishes and his politics. She's in a relationship with Tom (Matthew Macfayden), a happy-go-lucky doofus who everyone knows is three rungs below her in every way (including herself). Connor lives alone on a New Mexico ranch and pays a much-younger escort, Willa (Justine Lupe), to be his girlfriend. In a family of assholes, Connor isn't as much rude as he is plain bizarre.
It's difficult to articulate the appeal of "Succession" without watching it. Sure, I could tell you it's entertaining to watch family members tell one another to fuck off every few minutes, and it is. It's riotously funny and has the most creative insults this side of "Veep." But it's how they do it that I find so addicting. They're not any smarter or dumber than the average person; they just have more money and are more than willing to ruin other people's lives to keep it.
"Let me tell you something about being rich," a character says at one point, over a meal of deep-fried songbird. "It's fucking great."
It's hilarious in the moment, and sad in the larger context of the show. None of these people are happy even though they desperately want to be and pretend to be. Money destroys everything, including the people holding it, and that's what makes "Succession" a remarkable achievement.