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When A Man Dies, It Is Sad

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Emily Todd VanDerWerff has a good piece about what Succession has been able to pull off even more consistently in its second season [mild spoilers]:

Succession has gotten a lot of attention for how funny it is, and understandably so. The writers’ room is full of crack comedy writers, headed up by no less a brilliant comedy mind than Jesse Armstrong, a protégé of Veep creator Armando Iannucci (who also co-created the terrific Britcom Peep Show). The show’s dark sense of humor has become such a defining element that Vulture’s Kathryn VanArendonk recently wondered if its nomination for Outstanding Drama Series at the Emmys nomination should actually be a nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series.

But allow me (Vox critic at large Emily VanDerWerff) to argue that I think what makes Succession work as well as it does is everything that isn’t funny about it, and “Safe Room” is a great example of why. The characters on this show are fundamentally hollow and uninterested in much beyond the propagation of their own wealth. They want for nothing except fulfillment, and that makes them both horrible people and horribly sad people.

I am well aware that, for lots of viewers, the fun of watching Succession will never lie in empathizing with the Roys. But goodness me, when Kendall went up to the roof of the Waystar-Royco building, seemingly to throw himself off of it, and then found that glass barriers had been erected to prevent him from doing so, it hit me deep in the gut.

Everyone on Succession (and especially Kendall) can see the method of their destruction so clearly, but they’re still protected from it by an almost invisible barrier of wealth, class, and privilege.

It’s far from unprecedented for a well-received prestige drama to also have great comic writing — The Sopranos was one of the funniest shows of its era — but both elements are critical. Without the dark humor and very sharp satire of various forms of upper class decadence, the show would get stultifying, but without the soul it’s willing to allow its characters it wouldn’t work either (as good as it was, even Veep‘s nihilism can get hard to take if the batting average of the jokes drops a bit, and those episodes are half an hour.) And that it does all this while also making it clear what damage conservative mass media is doing to the country — it’s a pretty remarkable thing to pull off. Season 1 had its uneven and dull patches although it had me from the second Logan observed to the kiss-ass buying him a vulgarly expensive gift that “Phillipe Patek” was already inscribed on the box in the premiere — but they have really honed it into near-perfect form in Season 2.
And this piece from before the season started is looking prescient.

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