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‘Succession’ Is Finally in on the Joke

Three episodes in, the show has figured out how to display the absurdity of its characters

HBO/Ringer illustration

A big upside of Peak TV’s never-ending growth is that you can always replace a show you love—one that has either concluded as a series or has taken a break between seasons—with a new series that’s cut from the same cloth. I was devastated when the glorious, batshit third season of Billions concluded last week, and the thought of spending the rest of my 2018 television consumption without Paul Giamatti’s scowls or Damian Lewis’s tiny mouth was almost too much to bear.

But I barely had time to tattoo Wags’s face on my ass before a worthy successor took its place. HBO’s Succession has some very obvious surface similarities to Billions: These are shitty rich people doing shitty rich things. (As The Ringer’s Justin Charity also noted, its initial premise is a lot like that of Arrested Development.) But the issue with the show, at least in the pilot episode, was an apparent lack of self-awareness: Despite being executive-produced by The Big Short and Anchorman’s Adam McKay, it didn’t feel like Succession was in on the joke; it didn’t give the audience enough opportunities to laugh at its entitled characters. Things improved in the second episode, when Tom—the dopey boyfriend of Shiv, the only daughter of aging, Murdochesque media tycoon Logan Roy—tried to propose to her while her dad was (maybe) dying in a hospital. Who the hell does that?! Exactly!

That was the absurd jolt of energy that Succession needed to sustain itself: a great excuse to finally laugh at these awful rich people, the same way Billions invites us to simultaneously loathe and love characters like Chuck Rhoades and Bobby Axelrod. On Sunday night’s third episode, “Lifeboat,” Succession found the right balance between its propulsive narrative—Logan’s company is now being run by two of his sons, who hold very different temperaments—and moments that are downright ridiculous, like one of those sons masturbating in front of his new office window. It is hard to relate to the über-rich characters of Succession, but boy is it fun to luxuriate in their #RichPeopleProblems. Here were some of the best moments from “Lifeboat.”

Roman’s Personal Training

Roman, played by Kieran Culkin, is just the worst: He’s brash and profoundly arrogant, and in the pilot, he literally ripped a million-dollar check in the face of a cute little kid. Roman is awful, but Roman is also deliciously entertaining to watch—like Wags fused with … a Culkin.

Anyway, Roman is now Waystar Royco’s new chief operating officer, which is basically the company’s second-in-command after his brother Kendall. New responsibilities breed new routines, so Roman is now waking up at 5:30 in the morning to work out with a personal trainer, though the “training” we see is Roman getting stretched out and twisted like a pretzel while he talks a lot.

HBO

The trainer wants to know whether he’s being serious about training, so Roman assures him that he is “serious as cancer—fucking more serious, fucking money cancer,” which, sure. This particular maneuver seems to injure Roman’s back, so later in the episode he threatens to lawyer up against the trainer.

“I do big, big shit here every day, so losing even a quarter of a percent of my operating capacity, that has million-dollar implications,” he says. Don’t worry, trainer dude, Roman’s just joking around! The trainer looked quite relieved. Truth be told, if someone with a net worth that rivals a small nation’s GDP threatened to sue me, I’d be sweating harder than Mike Bibby after a weightlifting session.

Minority Stake, Snorting Coke

After Logan went down with an apparent stroke, Kendall found out that his dad took a $3 billion loan from a bank, which would need to be paid in full if Waystar stock drops below a certain mark. (Because Logan is the CEO and almost died, the company’s stock isn’t doing too hot.) Kendall realizes his best bet to save the company from paying back such a huge chunk of money is convincing his college buddy Stewy to get his private equity firm to invest in Waystar.

However, when they meet at a coffee shop to discuss this possibility—which, I stress, includes loaning as much as four billion goddamn dollars—Stewy confesses that he’s too hungover from last night, and if they’re gonna keep negotiating he’s gonna need to do a line of coke in the bathroom to wake himself up.

HBO

I suppose it’s a Wall Street stereotype for a reason—but if we’re trying to keep the references current, Adderall is the latest FiDi craze. Or better yet: When billions of dollars are on the line, remain sober!

HR Violation

On Roman’s first day as COO, he gets very familiar with his new office digs.

HBO

(Also, shout-out to Succession for cutting from Roman masturbating to coffee being spewed out of a dispenser at a coffee shop. I never want to drink a cup again.)

This feels like some tamer, corporate version of the Mile High Club, but the thing that’s really keeping me up at night is the fact that he cleans the window with some Kleenex and his own spit, then opens his office door to proclaim he is now “open for business.” Do you ever get paranoid about shaking hands with someone who didn’t wash their hands after they masturbate? (It can’t be just me, right?) This is nightmare fuel!

Logan Speaks

For most of the episode, the Roy children celebrate the small steps in their father’s recovery—the big breakthrough was that he tried to put on a sock. (The best moment is when Kendall is leading a huge Waystar meeting and says his dad is doing better, and Roman interjects: “This morning he put on a sock.”) But for the most part in “Lifeboat,” Logan is bedridden and barely able to speak.

So it’s pretty exciting when Logan summons Kendall to his room—and since Kendall just rescued the company from a potential $3 billion loss with a new investor (thanks, cocaine Stewy!), he was in a great mood. And what better way to celebrate this financial breakthrough than with your slowly healing father, who must so proud of—

LOOOOOOL. Yeah, Succession is not that show. Thank god. Anyway, if you liked Billions, you should be watching Succession.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.