Since the first episode of HBO’s Succession in 2018, viewers can’t take their eyes off the warring Roy family.
The saga follows the progeny of the domineering Logan Roy as they vie to take over the aging multimillionaire as head of his media empire.
Whether it’s his kids, a son-in-law, or old co-workers, the show loves to show the depths people will dive to get their hands on the prize.
This week’s episode was critically acclaimed as the show, now in its fourth and final season, took its most dramatic turn yet when (spoiler alert!) Logan died suddenly, wide opening the race to succeed him. .
Still not sure what’s going on? Read our explanation below for the full rundown of one of TV’s most talked about shows.
Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy, Sarah Snook as Siobhan ‘Shiv’ Roy, Kieran Culkin as Roman Roy consecutively
SMELL OF SUCCESS
Billed as a “satirical black comedy drama” about the Roy family, owners of New York-based media conglomerate Waystar Royco, Succession is in its fourth and final season.
The final episode on HBO on Sunday night attracted a record audience of 2.5 million (only 582,000 watched the first episode in 2018).
The “first night audience” is usually a fraction of the total number of viewers who end up watching the show. (Figures are not yet available for Sky Atlantic, which aired the episode Monday night.)
Succession has won 13 Emmy awards (and has been nominated 48 times). It has had five Bafta nominations and won Best International Series in 2019; and British star Matthew Macfadyen, who plays Logan’s scheming son-in-law Tom Wambsgans, won the Best Supporting Actor award in 2019.
Even the title music, a memorable dissonant melody, was nominated for a Grammy.
CLOSE TO HOME
The show has a very British stamp to it and many of the producers, writers, directors and leads (including Dundee native Brian Cox as Logan Roy and former Spooks star Macfadyen) are from the UK. Shropshire-born creator Jesse Armstrong, 52, cut his teeth writing comedies on Channel 4 sketch shows Smack The Pony and Peep Show, later working on The Thick Of It and Veep.
Dundee native Brian Cox as Logan Roy
Succession is considered one of the most expensive TV shows ever made, with the first two series costing an estimated $90 million.
When you’re as wealthy as the Roys, venues are expensive, along with the private jets and helicopters the family uses as buses. A mansion in upstate New York and a house in billionaires’ playground The Hamptons each cost around £100,000 a week to rent.
A Roy family wedding in Season 1 took place at £5,400 a night at Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire; while Villa Centinale, an £80,000-a-week 17th-century Tuscan estate, was used for Logan’s ex-wife’s wedding in Season 3.
Vacant offices in Manhattan’s towering One World Trade Center served as the headquarters of Waystar Royco.
Wealth consultants were hired to advise cast and crew on how the mega-rich live – including how to pull off a helicopter convincingly – and the stealth wealth wardrobe of designer clothes and accessories.
The show’s creators, no doubt encouraged by their lawyers, downplayed the connection to real people, but the similarities between the Roy family and the Rupert Murdoch clan are obvious.
These include the eldest child from a previous marriage who does not play a role in the family business; and the three younger siblings – two boys and a girl – who are constantly on the hunt for position.
There are obvious similarities between Roy’s conservative broadcaster ATN and Murdoch’s Fox News.
There’s even a sneaky reference in the credits to the claim that Murdoch gave away his daughter’s Shetland pony as a reader’s prize in one of his British tabloids.
Successor Jesse Armstrong once wrote a screenplay titled “Murdoch” in which he imagined his family gathering for his 78th birthday.
Brian Cox insists he was “not really channeling anyone” when he played Logan Roy.
Season Two Follow-Up: On the Roys’ Grand Mediterranean Yacht, Roman Shares His Hesitations About a New Source of Funding
If some actors seem perfectly cast, they weren’t meant to be. Kieran Culkin, the younger brother of Home Alone star Macaulay, is a perfect match for foul-mouthed youngest son Roman. But he was originally asked to audition for Roman’s sweet but blundering cousin, Greg.
Actor Jeremy Strong, who auditioned to play Roman, ended up playing troubled older brother Kendall Roy.
Succession is highly dependent on improvisation. “We’re improving in probably every scene to some degree,” said Nicholas Braun, who plays cousin Greg.
The creators of the series have also withheld some storylines from the cast. When Kendall performed a truly awful rap tribute to his father, the cast was filmed watching it for the first time in horrendous silence.
According to one of the British team members, Georgia Pritchett, the Succession writers were told a year ago that Logan Roy would die suddenly.
Brian Cox says he tried to mislead outsiders by coming to the recording of Logan Roy’s funeral. If he hadn’t, he said, photographers plotting the venue would have noticed his absence and concluded the ceremony was for him.
SO WHO WILL FOLLOW LOGAN ROY?
The only child of Logan’s first marriage (right). He feels that his father has rejected him and has little to do with the family business, instead giving in to megalomania by running for president of the United States.
Chance of succession: About as high as his victory in the White House. Not even an outsider.
Connor Roy (played by Alan Ruck) in HBO’s Succession
He is the foul-mouthed court jester of the family who felt his father was not taking him seriously.
Chance of succession: 7/1
Smart, cunning but definitely too cynical, unfocused and sexually incontinent for the top job.
Intensely eldest of three children from Logan’s second marriage. He was heir to the throne but battled drug abuse, had a traumatic marriage and botched deals before denouncing his father over a scandal in their cruise company. He then hatched a plan to take him down.
Chance of succession: 4/1
Pretty good on paper, but he’s fragile, so it’s uncertain how he’ll cope with the loss of the key person in his life.
Siobhan ‘shiv’ Roy
Logan’s only daughter and occasionally the apple of his eye. “You’re the one,” he once told her. In terms of Machiavellian trickery, she leaves her siblings standing.
Chance of succession: 6/1
Logan hesitated. Perhaps too calculating for her own good.
WayStar Royco’s lead attorney (right), who is also Shiv’s godmother and Roman’s sexual obsession. Underrated corporate eminence grise.
Chance of succession: 10/1
It would depend on Waystar Royco’s board and shareholders deciding that a family succession is too daunting a prospect to contemplate.
J. Smith-Cameron as Gerri Kellman in Succession Series 4
Logan Roy’s sweet-natured but hapless second cousin. The only really decent person in the Roy family.
Chance of succession: 50/1 outsider
Worth looking for just to see the look on his cousins faces.