Sucked into a seductive Succession

Updated: May 08, 2019, 19:59 IST | Mayank Shekhar

Can't wait for the second season of the stellar media-political drama full of intrigues and mock-irony that few seem to talk about

Sucked into a seductive Succession
A still from the HBO series Succession, which is slated to return in August. Pic/HBO

Mayank ShekharCan someone explain to me why Jesse Armstrong's phenomenally fun, fabulously feisty 10-part web series Succession (available on Hotstar) is not talked about in smashing terms? Or, for that matter, talked about at all? The series dropped in 2018. The trailer for the second season, expected to air in August, came out this weekend. This gives you enough time to catch up.

Is the lack of general brouhaha over this political-family drama full of intrigues, mock-irony, and manoeuvrings of a high-profile succession battle within a massive media conglomerate explained by the fact that it's an HBO show? Yup, HBO, which indisputably heralded the rebirth of modern, long-form, slickly produced television (with The Sopranos, back in 1999), and continues to remain the gold-standard for quality content.

Yet, the mini-demography that surrounds me by now swears by Netflix alone, chiefly for the fact that they introduced binge-watching--dropping episodes of a series all at once. The first audience of Succession would've caught an episode a week--an appointment viewing that sort of dulls the impact of a show, stretched over two and half months. Unless you're on the eighth season of HBO's Game Of Thrones--planning the nth house-party for the next episode.

I make this distinction between network television and an OTT platform because rapid changes taking place in media consumption are also at the heart of what Succession surveys. As is likely for any legacy/mainstream media empire, the top management is split between the practical, old guard that would rather bet on where the money already is -- local cable, etc -- rather than bleed for now, but potentially reap benefits of an uncertain future by investing in the Internet. Because, who watches TV?

For all its focus on churns within one global media house -- with stake in news, movies, amusement parks, the works -- Succession could be a story of the battle of succession in any field, anywhere in the world. In an early episode, the grand patriarch, Logan Roy (the brilliant Brian Cox), who founded and gradually grew the gigantic empire, is battling for life. While his kith and kin are overtly disturbed, the undercurrent flows more around who takes over, even if temporarily, since stocks are at stake.

This is quite similar to, say, Nagesh Kukunoor's series City Of Dreams (that dropped on Hotstar this weekend), set within Maharashtra politics. The Godfather is, of course, still the trilogy that any film on a multi-generational family firm would be benchmarked against.

That said, it's hard to exceed the machinations of Mahabharat, that Shyam Benegal did a fine job of smartly lifting and placing between two rival business houses with Kalyug in the '80s.

For inspiration/adaptation, the makers of Succession look no further than the cut-throat, Aussie-turned-American media mogul Rupert Murdoch, 88. As his estranged brother calls him, Logan Roy is an "ex-Scot, ex-Canadian, ex-human being." Murdoch's own family pretty much mirrors Roy's with children from multiple marriages, the last wife Jerry Hall, naturally at the top of the pyramid, but outside the stakes' game.

Also, Murdoch as a self-made media baron, deeply entrenched in American right wing politics, is a fascinating case study himself. The show doesn't delve much, or at all, into the rise and fall of Logan, and by association Murdoch, in public life--namely phone-hacking, and bribery/corruption scandals at the turn of the decade.

In fact, it doesn't go deeper into the media industry itself (and that could've significantly lifted this narrative to another level). What the show does though is sink its teeth into the insecurities of a pot-head generation that would follow a banyan tree like Roy, or his inspiration, Murdoch, if you may.

The character sketches for the young adult children, with most stakes in the succession war -- played stunningly by Kieran Culkin, Jeremy Strong, and Sarah Snook -- are sumptuously packed with subtext. The plot equally unsubtly examines the insider-outsider phenomenon, quite natural in an environment driven by privileges that you enjoy given your proximity to power alone; access being the only currency that counts.

And, no, this not about the money. Never is, is it? For the lay viewer, this sort of voyeuristic entertainment serves as an expose on unvarnished truths about a frighteningly ambitious, pretentiously polite society that in fact comprises the mostly beastly lot, still commanding respect though, because no one openly resorts to physical violence to get what they crave.

But that's just the moral underpinning (confirming our worst suspicions, of course). Not the point of why we secretly admire such a show. Think Martin Scorsese's Wolf Of Wall Street (2013). Sure, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) had a horrible end. But we loved the film because of the incredible high-life that money could buy -- sex, drugs, rock-n-roll. It was, firstly, a fantasy flick for a deprived man-child.

Among the things I learnt from Succession was this prohibitively expensive, "almost illegal", classified dish called Catalina--steamed foot of a song-bird that you pretty much inhale and swallow while covering your face with a napkin. Nope, not going to try that. But kahan milega aisa content!

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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