OPINION: HBO’s “Succession” is Rewriting the Rules of Streaming– and Making History in the Process

By Sadie Wyatt PZ ‘25

Photo from HBO.com.

If you’ve been on any form of social media — particularly Twitter— during any Sunday night in the past month and a half, you may have seen #SuccessionHBO, #Shiv, #Kendall, #Roman or any number of similar hashtags trending, without fail. There is a reason for this: the final season of HBO Max’s hit drama show “Succession”, which premiered on March 26, 2023, and has been released at 9 p.m. EST every Sunday night since. The show, to put it simply, is phenomenal. Not only has the final season reached its biggest audience yet, breaking series records, but has some of the best writing, directing, filming, and acting of any show I have seen in a long time, perhaps ever. Frankly, if you are missing this season of “Succession,” you are missing television history in the making.

So what makes “Succession” special? From the first time I watched the show, I loved it. The past three seasons are filled with all of the hallmarks of a great television show— characters that feel real, balanced moments of drama, humor, sadness, and chaos, and simply awesome writing. The characters are all clearly awful, privileged people, but the show manages to make you sympathize with them (at least for a bit… until they become even more evil). These are all true with the final season of “Succession,” but for some reason, it feels all the more overwhelming. Maybe this is because it is the last season and I’m feeling sentimental, or maybe it’s because it’s just that much better.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What even is “Succession” anyways? 

“Succession,” written by Jesse Armstrong and not-so-rumored to be loosely based on the Murdoch family, follows the Roy family, the dysfunctional billionaire owners of a global media and entertainment conglomerate. It features the patriarch Logan Roy (Bryan Cox), and the four children, Connor (Alan Ruck), Kendall (Jeremey Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook), and Roman (Kieran Culkin). The family navigates their personal and professional lives, power struggles, family dynamics, and corporate intrigue through drama, humor, sadness, and real-life moments. Viewers are treated to complex character studies, razor-sharp writing, and an insider’s look at the cutthroat world of high-stakes business.

But don’t be fooled— this isn’t just a show about asshole billionaires and capitalist obsession. This is a show about asshole billionaires, capitalist obsession, and the complexities of family relationships, power dynamics, and abusive parenting. It’s a scathing critique of wealth, power, and privilege. It is a critical look at the media industry, examining the ways in which media companies shape public opinion and influence politics. This is particularly evident with the obvious inspiration the show draws from the Murdoch family and their ownership of Fox News. We can see the way the conservative media shapes the country and reflects its values, both in the show and in real life.

More than anything, “Succession” is a masterclass in television making. One way it does this is through Armstrong’s brilliant writing. It is not down-to-earth, because these characters are not down-to-earth, but it does feel real. In my opinion, this is because of the way Armstrong assumes the viewer is smart in his writing. The dialogue is messy, overlapping, and quick. Jokes are not overly explained, nor are they overly built up. They let the characters breathe when they need to, speak under their breath as they need to, and say much more in the subtext of their words. The characters feel indescribably real— they act differently around different people, a critical part of being a human that television and movie writing often neglects. The siblings’ interactions feel incredibly relatable, and the interactions they have with their father take both minor and major chips away at the characters we have seen them be. They can be at each other’s throats, fighting for control of the company— but when their father dares to lay a hand on one of them, they stand up for each other like they weren’t just fighting. We watch them grow, change, and really, at their core, remain who they are; rich, spoiled, ‘nepotism babies’ (seriously, the sheer amount of wealth cannot be overstated. Millions of dollars are dropped like pennies on business deals, weddings, watches, and petty revenge plots). 

But what really brings these characters to life is the actors that portray them. Jeremy Strong in his portrayal of Kendall Roy, particularly, while known for his sometimes over-the-top method acting style – a style of acting where one stays in character outside of filming – is haunting, menacing, complicated, heartbreaking, and somehow, endearing. Sarah Snook is my personal favorite, portraying Shiv. Shiv is the perfect characteristic portrayal of a woman in this industry. Her “lean-in,” strategically-played feminism, shaky values, and sneaking around are contrasted by the way people continuously underestimate her – as the only woman in a family of successful men, Shiv has to work much harder, be much more evil, and forces herself to push against “feminine expectations,” as portrayed in the show, to appear competitive, serious, and trustworthy next to her brothers. Snook is one of the best actors I have ever seen in modern television, as she says more with her facial expressions, eyes, and physicality than she sometimes does with her words. While these are two notables, every actor in this show masters their character and brings a depth and complexity for their roles. They take these seemingly evil, spoiled characters from black and white to gray, creating rich and fully realized characters that viewers often can’t help but root for. They are horrible people – but they are also deeply suffering, sad humans. Their relatable struggles are balanced out with basic human emotions, fears, and heartache that make it possible to relate to otherwise evil characters.

This season has broken ground over and over again. In episode four, there was a 27-minute take. In watching this, I couldn’t help but be in awe! A 27-minute take is less than atypical for a television show— it’s nearly unheard of. This feat required several cameras running at once, so that when a camera had to be reloaded with film, one was always on, and walking on eggshells to avoid any mishaps. All I can think about is how similar it is to theater acting. It was pure acting, uninterrupted, lines memorized, with the pressure on. This also gives room for the actors to improv and build emotion just once, making it feel all the more real. While this is familiar to stage actors, this is extremely impressive for on-screen actors, where takes are usually two minutes and lines can be looked at in-between.

Needless to say, “Succession” is more popular than ever. While this is, in my opinion, deserved, it has also been largely assisted by HBO Max’s streaming approach.

Over the past few years, the rise of streaming services has fundamentally transformed the television industry. Gone are the days of waiting for episodes of your favorite show, and instead binge watching and mass releases have taken over, thanks to services like Netflix and Hulu. HBO has followed suit, experimenting with different release models, ranging from dropping entire seasons at once to releasing select episodes early for streaming. Recently, though, HBO Max, soon to be known as Max, has been releasing its originals (including Succession,” “Barry,” “The White Lotus,” and “The Last of Us”) in a weekly format. In my opinion, this is the best way a streaming service can do it; binge watching has ruined television. When services release entire seasons at once, it is no longer about really ingesting and discussing the content, but rather about how fast you can finish it. 

“Succession” is the perfect example of why a weekly release system is best. There is truly no feeling like waiting all day for the new episode to release after a week of the anticipation that follows watching it. Even going on social media and being able to discuss, read about, laugh, cry, and freak out with other people who have just watched the same episode as you is unique, rather than sharing the space with people who are a few ahead or behind. This makes huge moments, like some that have happened this season (don’t worry, no spoilers), feel even bigger. You are able to process the shock, feel it with everyone else, and then have a week to think about what is possibly going to come next. It is treating television like the art it really is, and is the way it should be.

So, every Sunday night, you will find me and my roommate on our individual beds, with our headphones in, in silence for one hour. Don’t worry though, this is followed by hours of debrief, discussion, and often, screaming. “Succession” is just that good. Catch it live, making history, while you still can.

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