In Season 2, Succession has become the funniest show on TV

Photo: Acquired via HBO Media Relations site.
Photo: Acquired via HBO Media Relations site. /

Once you get past the fact that not one single character in Succession is redeemable, the comedy of it all shines through like a beacon of psychic relief.

Truth is indeed stranger than fiction, but when the truth is just too much to bear, fiction is where the magic happens. When the rich and powerful seem untouchable and mired in bad, dangerous behaviors, that’s where narrative can step in and offer some relief. And HBO series Succession knows that laughter is the best medicine.

Succession follows the wildly rich and powerful Roy family, owners and operators of media conglomerate Waystar/Royco. Think: Fox News, a movie studio, plus weird, Disney-like theme parks. Logan Roy (Brian Cox) is the patriarch of the family, and the builder of this empire. After Logan suffers a stroke, his four children, Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong), Connor Roy (Alan Ruck), Siobhan “Shiv” Roy (Sarah Snook), and Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) all jockey for power as his potential successor. But despite looking death in the face, Logan remains unwilling to give anything up.

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While Season 1 got off to a somewhat slow start – viewers complained that it took upwards of five episodes to get into the plodding storyline, also that the characters were monstrous, unrelatable human beings, but we’ll get to that – Succession Season 2 hits the ground at a dizzying pace. In addition to upping the ante on the narrative, Succession, originally billed as a comedy, finally delivers on the funny. The first five episodes were made available to reviewers, and they are satisfying, absorbing, and monumentally hilarious.

In Season 2, Succession confidently steps into the political comedy vacuum at HBO, a vacuum created by the departure of Veep earlier this year. While Veep was a biting and genius take on modern D.C. politics, Succession boldly takes on corporate politics, and then throws in dysfunctional family politics for good measure. Of course, many dynasties are built upon nepotism, so adding family to the mix is a natural fit.

As the world and character building were carefully set back in the first season, in the new episodes, Succession springboards off of that foundation and begins to shift the pieces in ways both delightful and dastardly. In a move designed to stave off a potential acquisition of Waystar set in motion by Kendall at the conclusion of Season 1, Logan sets out to acquire an even bigger fish, Pierce Media. While Waystar’s news arm is known for tweaking its programming to appease their right-wing viewers, Pierce has a stellar reputation for reporting the actual news. What a concept.

Succession Review
Photo: Acquired via HBO Media Relations site. /

Stepping into the fold as gatekeepers of Pierce Media are notable cast additions Holly Hunter and Cherry Jones. The two women provide a nice juxtaposition to the overwhelming testosterone lingering in the air from Season 1. All you need to know is that both Hunter and Jones came to play with game faces on, and it’s electric as ever to watch them work their magic.

As the negotiations for Price wage on, Succession Season 2 amps up the question of who will succeed Logan Roy as the CEO of Waystar. At its core, the series remains a tale of power, greed, and dysfunctional families. These are universal themes that lend a very Shakespearian air to the proceedings. In fact, the show often goes out of its way to remind us that, while it is working to mirror current events and power structures, it’s going about it in a Shakespearian fashion. King Lear, anyone?

But while Shakespeare usually delineated between what constituted a comedic story and a tragic one, Succession demands our attention by offering up a carefully-curated mix of both. The finale of Season 1 proved as much, as it offered up both a wedding (a seminal conclusion of many a Shakespearian comedy) and a terrible death (a marked plot point at the end of most Shakespearian tragedies). The focus on comedy as a salve to the unmitigated tragedy of a dysfunctional family marred by harmful power dynamics recalls the first three seasons of Arrested Development – if only it had been written by Shakespeare.

In the years since Arrested Development originally premiered on Fox, comedy has increasingly been structured to include layers of both tragedy and drama – see: FleabagRussian Doll, BoJack Horseman, Barry… the list literally goes on forever. Yet, even in that Murderers’ row of lauded TV series, the second season of Succession somehow succeeds in delivering the most outright laughs per episode. Literal LOL’s, if you will.

Succession Review
Photo: Acquired via HBO Media Relations site. /

Most of this comedy stems from how truly terrible all the players at Waystar/Royco are. The Roy children have been raised in an emotionally and, presumably, at times physically abusive relationship with their father. (Who suffered abuse as a child himself – round and round the cycle of intergenerational trauma goes…) But these children are now adults, old enough to know better, old enough to break free from these stagnant relationships, and yet they don’t, despite the fact that they they also have an arsenal of tools at their disposal. Flush with stock options, oodles of property, and assets coming out of the wazoo, the Roys are some of the richest people in the world. IN. THE. WORLD. So it’s nearly impossible to feel bad for them when things don’t go their way, especially when they’re all reprehensible entitled brats.

It’s much more fun to laugh at them.

While in Season 1 those laughs were mostly delivered by the two resident Shakespearian fools, Tom (Michael MacFayden) and Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun), creator Jesse Armstrong has upped the comedy ante for the rest of the cast as well. Almost every character gets his or her own comedic arc in which the punchlines are often built upon the excess and privileged ignorance of their existence.

Next. Succession Q&A: "It's Fun to Watch Rich People Suffer". dark

In its moments of pure comedy, Season 2 of Succession serves up schadenfreude at its finest. It’s delicious fun to watch these characters squirm, especially as their real-life familiar counterparts like the Murdochs and the Trumps wreak unchecked havoc on our society and government. Maybe we feel helpless to change the way that certain power structures work in real life, but an ostensible peek behind the curtain in a fictional narrative like Succession allows us a much-needed measure of catharsis.

Succession airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.