Quarantine Consumption: HBO’s “Succession”

So, this year has been weird. In the last seven months, many of us have spent more time alone than ever before, and as much as arts and entertainment can be a great way to bond in person, they are just as important when we’re stuck in our rooms. This term, I am going to be asking Lawrentians what piece of art or media has gotten them through quarantine, what captured their imagination or made them feel less alone during these hard times. From the silly reasons to the serious ones, what is it and why is it important to them?

It has often been said that we are in a golden age of television. Prestige cable dramas like “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad” are hailed as stand-outs of this era, along with their network counterparts like “The West Wing.”  Although we are still in an age of standout TV, media is witnessing a huge transition from network and cable television to streaming. While some television continues to air week to week, it’s still tailored for the binge. No one knows this better than senior Bea McManus, whose quarantine binge and newfound obsession is the HBO drama, “Succession.”

McManus explained, “‘Succession’ is about this family who runs a giant media company, kinda like Disney. So, like, lots of money, lots of power. And it tells the story of the CEO and his kids,” all of whom are jockeying for power as their father falls into poor health. McManus admires how it deals with incredibly heavy topics all while understanding that life can also be funny, especially when petty sibling rivalries are involved. What really stands out to her about “Succession” is the writing: “It is so great, both in terms of plot development and character development.” This, of course, is a trademark of “prestige” dramas and one of the reasons they not only keep audiences hooked but also catch the eye of critics and award shows. “Succession” snatched the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama for its second installment during this year’s awards season. “It’s just very good TV; they pace it out so well and piece everything together,” praised McManus.

Another appealing thing about “Succession” and about television generally in the age of streaming is the show’s inherent “bingeability.” “It’s 10 hour-long episodes, and the season finales are both cliffhangers. There’s really an art to [creating a bingeable season of television]” says McManus. Although “Succession” was released week by week on HBO, which is evidenced by its “previously on ‘Succession’” segment every episode, it is an incredibly addicting watch. This is something more television shows are attempting to do, knowing that creating a successful complete season for those who stream it is more important than keeping people coming in week to week.

What also draws people like McManus into “Succession” is the opulent and high-pressure lives of its characters. “‘Succession’ is a show about the richest of the rich, and with how wide the wealth gap is in our country right now, that’s something that I think a lot of people want to explore.” The corporate intrigue of the show also draws normal people into a world they aren’t familiar with. This escapist element was really important for McManus, especially as the world seemed to close in on her with the pandemic. She explained, “I was at a point where I was kind of freaked, and TV in general is a great way to think about something else.”

“It’s just so good!” gushed McManus. “I mean, I don’t want to, like, spoil it, but the acting is phenomenal. The character development is so great, like where you love and hate them, but no matter what you’re always intrigued.” McManus continued, “It’s one of those shows where you’re in the middle of an episode and you’re like, this is gonna be my last one, but then by the time you get to the end of the episode you’re like ****, I’ve got to keep going!” “Succession” is a marker that we are still in an era of great TV; the writing, the characters and the intricate storytelling all come together to make compelling and grand television.