The success of “Succession”

The three younger Roy children during episode four of season four. Photo courtesy of The New York Times. 


Since its first season aired in 2018, “Succession” has blown audiences away with its witty dialogue, fascinating characters and compelling plot twists. The show is a comedic drama centered on the lives of the fictional Roy family and the media empire they govern. The back-and-forth power dynamics of the show’s characters could easily go on for seasons and seasons, so many fans were surprised with the announcement that the currently running fourth season will be the show’s last. However, Jessie Armstrong the show’s writer reminded audiences that “there’s a promise in the title.” There will be a succession from one CEO to the next, and the show must come to an end. 

The past three seasons have been critically acclaimed and earned many accolades, including 48 Emmy nominations and 13 wins. This season will likely be no exception. There is already buzz around nominations, particularly in the acting categories. Many actors are on nomination short lists, such as Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin, Matthew Macfayden, Nicholas Braun and, of course, Brian Cox

Since this will be the show’s last awards season, the show’s actors will likely campaign harder than ever for these last chance wins. According to Variety, some actors are considering moving from their usual categories to better their chances of a victory. Sarah Snook and Kieran Culkin have previously been nominated in the Supporting Actress and Actor categories, respectively, but they may choose the Lead Actress and Actor categories this season. Similarly, Brian Cox could potentially be nominated in the Lead, Supporting or Guest Actor categories. 

Not only has “Succession” received praise for its acting, its writing and directing have also earned the show accolades. As the 2022 Best Drama Series winner, “Succession” will also be looking to defend this title. 

Gary Edgerton, a professor of creative media and entertainment, said that this award will likely be important to the show. 

“The [Best Drama Series] Emmy is really theirs to lose,” Edgerton said. “There’s lots of good shows on, but this is truly a cut above.” 

The success of “Succession” has come as a shock to some since it can be slow moving and features characters who the audience often do not like. Some fans believe this success is due to the show’s writing. “Succession”’s writer, Jesse Armstrong, displayed his talent for satirical writing with the shows “Peep Show” and “Fresh Meat.” He brought this witty dialogue and combined it with a deep understanding of the characters for “Succession.” 

Bryannar Swenson, an associate professor of English, said that it is that deep understanding of the characters that invests audiences in otherwise unsavory events. 

“There’s some tension between our individual experiences of family and siblings and the difficulty of who takes control of what,” Swenson said. “Deep down I think it’s a kind of perverse inversion that we want to identify with these billionaires and normalize their ridiculous behavior, but we like to perversely watch them be miserable. The show really taps into that bigger tension.” 

Despite its acclaimed writing and acting, “Succession” remains an outlier in modern successful television. The early 2000s and 2010s saw the invention of “prestige TV” with shows like “The Sopranos” and “Game of Thrones.” These shows were a departure from traditional sitcom television by taking a darker tone and exploring new ways to use the camera. They sought to tell very specific stories on television using movie level production. This phenomenon — spearheaded by “Succession”’s home platform HBO — proved to be wildly successful with audiences. Despite its success, the prestige television wave seemed to slow down by the mid-2010s. The remaining prestige shows were winding down, and there were fewer that captured the cultural zeitgeist. 

That is, until “Succession.” In 2018, “Succession” reintroduced audiences to the potential of prestige television. It seemed to echo its predecessors by stretching the limits of television. 

“[‘Succession’] is one of the best shows that has ever been on television,” Edgerton said. “It’s really the gold standard of what scripted drama can be … It harkens back to the very best of prestige TV.” 

As the show winds down and prepares to fulfill its title, that quality has not deteriorated. While there are mixed feelings about “Succession” ending after four seasons, it seems that the show will go out with a bang. Many fans are sad to see the show go but impressed that the showrunners know when the story is over. 

Nolan Sonnenberg, a junior economics major, said that he thinks it makes sense to end the show after this season. 

“I think it’s been the best season yet,” Sonnenberg said. “I like that they’re going out while the show is at its best instead of dragging it out.” 

It is refreshing for fans like Sonnenberg to see a show intentionally ending when it could potentially have gone on for seasons and seasons. This last season has been an eventful one, to say the least. The “Succession” team is keeping it entertaining until the very end, and fans are on the edge of their seats waiting for the title’s promise to be fulfilled.


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