In ‘Succession,’ the Very Rich Are Very, Very Different

The holdings of Waystar Royco — Hollywood studios, cruise lines, newspapers, amusement parks, a king-making right-wing news channel — make Ewing Oil look like a franchise gas station. We know only vaguely how Logan Roy built his empire, but it was enabled partly by the media-consolidation and antitrust deregulation, beginning in the “Dallas”/Reagan era, that allowed his real-life analogues like Rupert Murdoch to make their own piles.

Meanwhile, the smaller TV audiences of the cable and streaming age have allowed “Succession” to thrive as a more specific and more niche entertainment. A series in the three-network era had to appeal to tens of millions of people just to stay on the air — “Dallas” needed to serve a crowd-pleasing spread of barbecue. “Succession” can afford to be a rarefied, decadent pleasure, like an ortolan, the deep-fried songbird, eaten whole, that was featured in a memorable Season 1 meal.

“Dallas,” like its followers from “Dynasty” through “Empire,” was in the populist soap-opera tradition of letting the audience delight in the woes of rich people. Its characters were like us — jealous, envious, heartbroken — just with more money and less happiness.

“Succession” has its crowd-pleasing and universal elements too. Logan was an irresistible brute, able to pack a Shakespeare soliloquy’s worth of emotion into a two-word curse. The Roy children — Kendall, Roman, Shiv and their half brother, Connor — have developed a survivors’ bond and survivalist cutthroat instincts; one arm joins the group hug, the other holds a dagger. At root, the series’s family themes are talk-show simple: Hurt people hurt people.

But its voice, as set by the creator, Jesse Armstrong, is arch and referential; its details demand a range of knowledge or at least the willingness to Google. As Logan is laid to rest in a mausoleum that he bought for $5 million from a dot-com pet-supply mogul — one last cold and expensive residence — Shiv jokes, “Cat food Ozymandias.”

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