Why we must watch the series "Succession", acclaimed by critics but remained confidential to the general public


Encouraged by the media, this brilliant series, whose second season has just ended, hardly seduce the general public.

"Seriously, HBO should put a third of the marketing budget of Game Of Thrones in Succession. This series should be one of the biggest, and the fact that it is not, is just ridiculous. " With this tweet (in English) liked about 1,500 times, blogger Brandon Lewis has expressed loudly what fans of Succession think in a whisper. How is it that this great series (available in France on OCS) remains so confidential?

Waystar Royco's CEO, Logan Roy, played by British actor Brian Cox.
Waystar Royco's CEO, Logan Roy, played by British actor Brian Cox. (HBO)

The parallel between Succession and Game Of Thrones is not a coincidence. While everyone has been looking for a replacement for the event series that ended last spring after eight seasons, Succession, arrived in June 2018, quickly appeared to some as obvious. At the end of the first season, the Bloomberg * website made this implacable statement: Succession is "become the Game Of Thrones senior executives ". On paper, the similarities are almost too obvious: same broadcaster and same box (Sunday night on HBO in the United States), ten episodes of about an hour per season and especially a package of related topics.

Succession speaks of power, of an empire to defend and a band of degenerates who jostle to get on a throne. This seat is not iron. It is the CEO position of Waystar Royco, a conglomerate of influential companies in the media and tourism. Occupied by Logan Roy (Brian Cox), billionaire angry and aging, the armchair is coveted by the four children whom the patriarch has fun to put in competition.

There is Connor (Alan Ruck), an elder from a first marriage, not very interested in family businesses, but whose eccentric lifestyle ties him financially to his father. Then follow Kendall (Jeremy Strong), a natural successor, whose polytoxicomania poses many problems, Roman (Kieran Culkin), the youngest as neurotic as immature. Finally comes Siobhan, aka "Shiv" (Sarah Snook), the only daughter of Logan Roy, the only family democrat, who chose to embrace a career as a political communicator while secretly dreaming of finally impressing her father, to be able to succeed.

If many media, Guardian * to Vox * via Le Point Pop in France, naturally approached Succession of Game Of Thronesis also because each episode broadcast causes an avalanche of reactions on social networks, sign of a compelling need to debrief what we have seen. "This is for me the most obvious connection between the two, analyzes the journalist Anaïs Bordages. It's something more and more rare, because no one looks anymore (the series) at the same rate, and Netflix or Amazon put all episodes online at once. "

In France, the media have been slow to take an interest in it, but on the other side of the Atlantic, Succession triggered a truly runaway press. During the two months of the broadcast of season 2, the American site Vulture * has published no less than 63 articles. A craze shared by a large part of the press, cultural or generalist. The Hollywood Reporter * ("the perfect series for the Trump era") The Atlantic * ("better than ever") indiewire * ("the best drama of the year is especially fun") and Collider * ("one of the best TV series") have dubbed the series. Even the prestigious New Yorker * has split an analysis of the outfits worn by the characters.

This fervor of the American press can be explained by the inspiration of the creator of the series Jesse Armstrong. As recalled The Independant *Logan Roy is very largely built after Rupert Murdoch. The billionaire of Australian origin is the founder of News Corporation, one of the largest media groups in the world. Rupert Murdoch has also been implicated in the tabloid scandal of the British tabloid News of the Worldas recalled The Express.

The tribulations of the Roy family also echo other great American dynasties such as Trump, Hearst or Redstones, the magazine compares Town & Country*: families who built empires and whose successes and setbacks have had enormous repercussions in the Anglo-Saxon countries. "When you're an American, watching the series, you immediately think of Rupert Murdoch"says Charlotte Blum, a journalist for OCS.

In 'Succession', there are ghosts who, in France, do not speak to us, whereas for them, they are real dramas.Charlotte Blumat franceinfo

This media frenzy in the United States is also due to the fact that the series, especially in its second season, plunges us into the arcane American media. It reveals a certain way of directing a chain of information continuously, to devour a pure player to rejuvenate its audience, to absorb a big competitor in the hope of becoming untouchable, to get rid of a presenter accused of flirting with fascist ideologies, etc.

"Many journalists talk about Succession, but maybe because the series is talking about the media,from an editorial point of view, but on the business side, according to Norine Raja, culture journalist for Vanity Fair. "There is a shift in point of view since we are no longer with journalists but with those who own the media in which journalists work ". A singular prism that may be enough to explain the fascination that the series exerts on the profession.

Excerpt from episode 6 of Season 2 of "Succession" with Holly Hunter (right) and Cherry Jones (left).
Excerpt from episode 6 of season 2 of "Succession" with Holly Hunter (right) and Cherry Jones (left). (HBO)

The fact that the media ignites almost unanimously can also have a foil effect. "It reminds me of The Americans or The Leftovers, critically acclaimed shows that have never really had phenomenal public success, the journalist Anaïs Bordages analyzes. I wonder if, when critics like it, people do not tell themselves that it is a series that is fired or perhaps too intellectual. " Result, Succession is very far from experiencing the popular success of Game Of Thrones.

In the United States, each episode records an average of 600,000 viewers at the time of its linear broadcast, according to the final TV Series website *. That's about double in overall audience (incorporating replay), with no significant variation between the two seasons. In total, HBO still announces a 12% increase between the audiences of the last episodes of the two seasons, according to The Wrap *. Very far from 2.5 million for an episode of the first season of Game Of Thrones.

Roman Roy, performed by Kieran Culkin.
Roman Roy, performed by Kieran Culkin. (GRAEME HUNTER / HBO)

In France, the group OCS is reluctant to communicate its audiences, but Guillaume Jouhet, its general manager, is more optimistic. According to him, "the episodes of season 2 have almost all made 30% more audience than those of season 1".

'Succession' is now the sixth most watched series on OCS, behind 'Game of Thrones', 'The Handmaid's Tale', 'The Walking Dead', 'Sex & The City' and 'Power'.Guillaume Jouhet, Director General of OCSat franceinfo

A correct score, therefore, but very far from the runaway for Game Of Thrones. A gap that can be explained by multiple reasons.

Among the most obvious, we can mention the timing of the broadcast. With a first season unleashed on the screens in the yard of the summer of 2018, considered period hollow for the series, Succession did not benefit from the spotlight put on new programs launched in September or January each year. This is ultimately a minor disadvantage. In fact, one of the biggest problems in the series could well come from its pitch itself.

The fact that the characters are both very rich and extremely obnoxious repels people. That's the fun of the show, but it takes a little time to explain that there is a cathartic side to seeing the unfortunate rich.Anaïs Bordages, journalistat franceinfo

Especially since this side "circle of power" can prove suffocating. "There are a lot of meetings, alliances, Norine Raja analysis. Contrary to Game Of Thrones, violence is not physical but psychological. It's a series that requires a little investment at the beginning. "

Roy's siblings. From left to right, Roman (Kieran Culkin), Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Connor (Alan Ruck) and Shiv (Sarak Snook).
Roy's siblings. From left to right, Roman (Kieran Culkin), Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Connor (Alan Ruck) and Shiv (Sarak Snook). (HBO)

Indeed, if Succession is a real soap family, it is nonetheless far removed from the references of the genre, as Dallas or Dynasty. For journalist Charlotte Blum, "Unlike those series where everything was grandiloquent, everyone is gray in Succession. Even when they make big parties, it's always a little sad. "" That's why the series can not become popular ", according to her. A cold, dark realism, which may seem arid, far from the entertaining side traditionally associated with soaps. Especially since there is in Succession, as Norine Raja reminds us, no possible identification, all the characters being deeply detestable.

Traditionally, in a soap, there are people we love. In 'Succession', it's complicated, even if one ends up excusing their behavior by understanding where they come from.Norine Raja, journalistat franceinfo

Yet critics of series are convinced, Succession is an absolute masterpiece. In these conditions, how can you convince people to look at it?

It would surprise me that in 20 years, we do not yet talk about 'Succession' as a series that has really marked the history of TV.Anaïs Bordages, journalistat franceinfo

For Charlotte Blum, "We are talking about Succession as a political series, completely forgetting to press the comedy side ". The journalist admits laughing a lot watching her, reveling in the misadventures of these billionaires "no pace, no empathy, no look at a world that does not interest them, unless it can bring them money". We are here in a real "drama", a series with a real potential of entertainment accessible to the general public. "What people who liked Game Of Thrones or breaking Bad do not necessarily expect to find ", analyzes Anaïs Bordages.

The character of Kendall Roy, played by Jeremy Strong.
The character of Kendall Roy, played by Jeremy Strong. (HBO)

Darker than Dallas, less popular than Veep (another series produced by HBO in which Jesse Armstrong made his classes), Succession is a funny series, which also plays with our emotions.

During the last episode of Season 2, I was laughing for the first 45 minutes. Then I burst into tears, and in the last minute, I got up from my couch, ready to applaud.Anaïs Bordages, journalistat franceinfo

Norina Raja, if HBO or OCS have not pushed further promotion of the series, they are not to blame. "The series is making its way on its own, there is such a word of mouth that I do not know if they need to do more, they are betting on the critical reception for the series to become more popular." For presenters, the upcoming Emmy Awards ceremony in September 2020 could be decisive.

I'm 100% sure that now that 'Game of Thrones' is gone, 'Succession' will win everything at the next Emmy Awards, including the best drama series.Anaïs Bordages, journalistat franceinfo

Obviously, the series will never attract 11 million viewers, as some episodes of Game Of Thrones. For Norine Raja, this quest for "new Game Of Thrones"Is also completely futile, since we had to deal with a real "serial phenomenon". "There will obviously be other successful series, recalls the journalist, but in this way, it will not happen anytime soon ".

To those who have not yet recovered from the end of GOT, we advise rather to turn towards At the crossroads of the worlds (His Dark Materials in VO), another HBO series available in France on OCS, closer to the world of fantasy. Because it's obvious, says Norine Raja, "there will be no new Game Of Thrones". And that's probably the best reason to get into Succession.

* All links followed by an asterisk are in English.

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