Of course I enjoy some mindless entertainment, puff television like the 11 seasons of Modern Family. Last night we watched the new (2021) Netflix holiday romcom, Single All the Way. It’s silly, improbable, and designed to mostly get a laugh or two while making the viewers feel good. But then there are those programs that are way more. They poke and prod and provoke, push boundaries, explore big issues and themes, and typically have amazing cinematography, brilliant writing, great actors, and sets and locations to die for. This latter description is the cloth from which the two series, Succession and Yellowstone, are cut. Brilliant TV.
When I first began watching HBO’s Succession, I had to come up to speed, and quickly. The writing was snappy – hyperdrive quick. The grotesque and ugly cut-throat business themes are foreign to me. The family dynamics are just evil, loveless manipulation at every turn with every line of dialogue. Nothing is what it seems to be.
Every character is always angling, strategizing to best position themselves for advantage. This is a world of power and greed we only see glimpses of in today’s political landscape. And the story makes frequent allusions to the wealthy elite billionaire class (like the Murdoch family) and today’s hyper-divisive political landscape. “There is no right and wrong – only more!”
I am smitten with the dialogue. Who writes this stuff? Every character. Every word. It is all meaningless – in that nothing said means anything more than buying time for a better strategy, a better manipulation for currying favor and power. So, at the same time, the dialogue means everything! Kendall’s character said it best, “Words, words words. Words are just nothing – complicated airflow.” Nobody means what they are saying.
I find the lack of direct conversation, of saying what you actual mean, maddening but fascinating and intriguing because I spent my adult lifetime trying very hard to say what I mean and mean what I say. But that context rarely exists in this series with these characters. And when it does, it’s a sickening gut punch.
I found this video, by Nerdwriter, about just this very topic, spot on. He goes into great detail, siting numerous excellent examples from the series. It’s an excellent watch.
And then, there is the music! I had never heard of Nicholas Britell until I just had to know who is writing this music. The theme is fantastic. I suspect that my favorite is the end credit music. Is the composer going to write the closing HBO signing off logo into his end credits music as the final tonic? – almost always! Who plans that?! Who has ever done that before? It’s crazy clever. The music is the gorgeous elocution the dialogue avoids, and combined they tell a whale of a story!
In this video, Nicholas Britell speaks about how he writes the music and why we hear what we hear.
And locations? My god! What a budget! In season 3, the Italian villas are scrumptious. Delicious, but for the eyes. Apparently they are available for rent as well. My favorite is Villa La Cassinella on Lago di Como. The property. The setting. Breathtaking. Take a quick look.
Bryce Edward Brown offers a great overview of the series as well.
I’m addicted to Succession, and I can’t wait until season 4. My one great hope is that the writers bring the story to a conclusion and not let it just dribble away into nothingness when HBO stops funding it1 . What a timely story with parallels to big themes and issues facing not just this country, but people the world over.
And the casting… the cinematography… Well, what can anyone say? The awards speak for themselves.
This post went much longer than I anticipated. I’ll have to write a follow up piece on Yellowstone, another amazing TV series.
Yes, HBO. I’m still bitter over the ending (or non-ending) of Lost! ↩