In Succession, Brian Cox plays a tyrannical octogenarian media mogul described by one lackey as ‘a pal to prime ministers and a truth teller to presidents’. He’s on his third marriage, and his squabbling, grasping brood are manoeuvring to inherit his crown. So all credit to whoever had the chutzpah to buy this for Sky – major shareholder one Rupert Murdoch.
Written by Jesse (Peep Show) Armstrong, HBO’s dynastic drama is a compelling mix of Citizen Kane and Billions, seasoned with the acid wit of Arrested Development, while Cox plays Logan Roy as a boardroom Lear: every inch a king, when he do stare, see how his subjects quake.
The centrepiece of the first episode was the most excruciatingly awkward party since Abigail’s, as Logan turned 80 and the various claimants to his throne fretted about how best to ‘strategise their gifts’. The birthday boy’s idea of a party game, meanwhile, involved a fleet of helicopters and a private baseball field. Not exactly pin the tail on the donkey, is it?
Not that money buys you happiness: everyone in Succession is rich and miserable, and most of them are fairly appalling human beings, too. Heir apparent Kendall (Jeremy Strong) once left cocaine smeared over his kids’ iPad, while siblings Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) feign cynical disinterest to mask their ruthless ambition. The only one who’s vaguely likeable is Logan’s gawky great-nephew Greg (Nicholas Braun), a career screw-up who’s just been fired from his job wearing a dog costume at one of the family’s theme parks after vomiting through the eye-holes. (Come on, we’ve all done it.)
Armstrong mixes these moments of black farce with the sort of whip-smart, rat-a-tat dialogue familiar from his shifts on Veep and The Thick of It (‘What’s a prekend?’ ‘Prekend is Friday’) while the family’s various tensions and power plays unfold like a thrilling game of cat and mouse.
For anyone who thought HBO might have surrendered its own crown to that young pretender Netflix, Succession is a reminder of who started this whole game of thrones in the first place.
Despite being on BBC Three, and therefore presumably aimed at hip young gunslingers, Cuckoo is a reassuringly trad sitcom at heart – never more so than in this week’s fourth series opener, which revolved around Ken’s (Greg Davies) efforts to secure the coveted title of Lichfield Lawyer of the Year (‘the night Lichfield honours its heroes!’), with predictably humiliating consequences. It’s Terry and June with swearing and bottom jokes, basically.
Move over Judy and Rinder, Dave’s new comedy has Romesh Ranganathan – a man with ‘a lazy eye for justice’ – attempting to solve public disputes with help from bailiff Tom Davis and court clerk Kerry Howard. It’s a fun format, in which Judge Romesh holds everyone in contempt (including the studio audience), before passing down sentences like, ‘As a human, you are borderline unacceptable’. Taskmaster fans, we may have found your new favourite show.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, August 9, 2018
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