Bah. Humbug. I’m starting to think I am Ebenezer Scrooge and: Succession: is my Christmas. It’s not that I don’t like the HBO show where an excessively wealthy extended family wrestles for control of a media empire in an incredibly well-funded limbo of how low you can go. I like the constant ratcheting up of tension, a tourniquet on my last nerve. I like watching the siblings squirm for slivers of approval from their patriarch, a charmless man who’s ruthlessly leveraging familial empathy. I like Kendall Roy, the fallen Icarus repeatedly trying to soar back towards the sun. I like Shiv (is the correct spelling Siob?), who seems to be the most competent and strategic, but I’m still not completely sure why she married Tom. Tom, of course, is perfect; watching the sentient dessert spoon’s perilous family reposition is a painful delight. Cousin Greg is my favorite, not because he’s less power hungry, but because he feels naturally less corrupt.
Every single character is ambitious, arguably useless, and embalmed with privilege. In a time when so much media feels focus-grouped and crowdsourced and every-manned, Succession: feels created specifically for my personal preferences. I am truly entertained, I am gripped.
But there are two Successions: the one you stream and enjoy and the one you experience online through tweets and memes, a drowning watercooler moment that also wrings out the fun of the show. Mondays have become unbearable on Twitter. This is the way we watch now. We’re all nerds, fanatical streaming tribes, experts in the content we binge. I don’t care about spoilers (knowing what’s going to happen isn’t what’s spoiled this for me), it’s the use of Succession: as a personality. I find the squabbling so intensely un-fun. The Scrooge in me wants to cancel Christmas.
I loved the recent one New Yorker profile on Jeremy Strong because I love going-Method gossip. We discovered that Jeremy earnestly quotes TS Eliot; Jeremy irritates his costars by refusing to rehearse scenes; Jeremy once nearly bankrupted a Yale theater company for a night with Al Pacino. People derided the self-importance in the piece, but for me it felt like less of a savage teardown of Strong and more of a study on the pretenses of acting itself. I’ve met a few actors at parties, and they can get quite irate when you suggest their job is merely pretending to be someone else.
Strong is painted as extremely self-serious, and I think it’s this unwavering solemnity that some readers found most icky. When he breaks character, Strong’s just as hyper-intelligent and naive as Kendall, as tenderly sensitive as he is incapable of fully reading the room. It makes sense that the man who plays Kendall does so without wryness or humor. But I think we hate that he’s playing it straight. In these Twitter-heavy, witty-retort days, it’s incredibly easy to be glib, to quip away. You might find yourself saying something direct or meaningful and bunging a lol on the end of it to soften the message.
Like the Roys, we are all in some way afraid to present the whole truth of ourselves, to show vulnerability and invite genuine judgment. We win Twitter with our glibness, with our sass. Watching Strong lean into his truth, however unconventional and eccentric, without an ounce of fear is oddly perverse. There’s a sense he should be holding his cards closer to his chest like the rest of us. But his fearlessness is his success, it’s his strength. Which of us is next in line?