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In ‘Succession,’ Who Is the Joke Really On?

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There’s a scene in Succession’s second season in which Logan Roy, the patriarch and CEO of a family-owned media conglomerate, sits with his sons, his great-nephew, and a longtime colleague to watch a former employee reveal sordid company secrets on television. The men slouch on bisque sofas, drink beer, and cooperatively heckle the screen as the whistle-blower, James Weisel, details decades of sexual abuse on the company’s cruise lines. The journalist asks Weisel a question: What does “incident NRPI” mean, which appears frequently in a set of confidential corporate documents?

“No real person involved,” Weisel responds. “That means it’s a sex worker or a migrant worker at a foreign port, not involving a guest or a permanent member of staff.” The room goes quiet, tensing, then Logan explodes—“I can’t watch any more of this fucking bullshit”—and throws the remote at his eldest son, who changes the channel to a baseball game.

The distinction between these workers, who are not “real,” and the adult men hearing about them on TV while they eat snacks in a Manhattan penthouse, who, as members of the company’s inner circle, are real, exemplifies the tension at Succession’s core. In episode after episode, the rich aren’t merely oblivious about the lives of the poor; they want the poor not to exist to a degree that often crosses over into violence. Although its plot tracks power struggles within a rich family, the show is beloved for its sardonic tone: the way it skewers its wealthy characters and the attention it pays to the barriers not only between the 1 percent and the rest of us but also between distinct phyla of the economic elite.

Succession is the invention of British TV writer Jesse Armstrong, the creator of the aughts sitcom Peep Show and a frequent collaborator of Armando Iannucci. (Armstrong wrote for Iannucci’s parliamentary comedy In the Thick of It and cowrote the Iraq War satire In the Loop.) The show draws from a miscellany of references: the succession battles of the Murdoch family, the cartoonish nastiness of media mogul Sumner Redstone, and James B. Stewart’s business reporting opus DisneyWar, among others. One of the show’s executive producers is Adam McKay (The Big Short, Vice), who once made slapstick comedies and has since become a box office chronicler of late capitalism. It also employs a host of consultants—including former Lou Dobbs Tonight executive producer Jim McGinnis; Merissa Marr, a senior writer at The Wall Street Journal; and Derek Blasberg, a socialite and Instagram-famous fashion writer—to ensure its depictions of wealth, power, and broadcast news are meticulously detailed.





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Thanks !

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