How the HBO show fits into a long British television tradition
If you are a Succession– head wondering what to watch next after the HBO hit stop wasting its hours of delicious horror with the Season 3 finale on Sunday, may I recommend Peep Show? The nine-season British sitcom is little known in the United States but considered one of the best of this century in the United Kingdom. Up to Succession, Peep Show was what British showrunner Jesse Armstrong was best known for co-creating. He may focus on a council apartment rather than the Elyos heights of the ultra-rich, but in his tracks – ultra-serious Mark (David Mitchell) and Jeremy (Robert Webb) – you’ll see Kendall and Roman’s ancestors with a few waterings Tom and Greg. Each scene is shot from the perspective of one of the characters, which means they all speak to you effectively, look you straight in the eye, kiss you every now and then. Peep Show annoys even if it makes you laugh. He has Succession DNA was injected through and through.
Peep Show and the other great British hit that Armstrong co-wrote, The thickness of it, are the main reasons why I saw his Succession as the dark British sitcom of Season 1. One that hides behind a big budget and orchestral score to make it all sound so skyrocketing, tragic and fanciful, but a dark British sitcom nonetheless. Late, American critics began to understand (“Is Succession the best sitcom on tv? ” The New Yorker reflected in November), but they don’t even scratch the surface of the British misanthropic tradition. There is a whole sub-genre of British comedy shows that tell tangled truths about the world, but are also cynical about the chances of anything getting better. The leaders of American sitcoms are often content to be stuck in an immutable situation, in part because they always think they are living the American dream; their British counterparts are trapped in Hell, which of course is other people. Dark British sitcoms are all No Exit with laughs.
Succession, which is written in a rudimentary London office by Armstrong and a predominantly British writers’ room, can be considered the first of its kind to cross the Atlantic unscathed. Traditionally, when Britcoms move west, much of the proper obscurity is lost in translation. The UK version of the Office against the sunnier United States Office is the best example, but this sort of thing has been happening since the BBC Until death do us part (about heinous working-class racist Alf Garnett) transmuted to CBS ‘ All in the family (about charming working-class racist Archie Bunker) in the 1970s. The Britcom dropout happened so often that it became the subject of a sitcom in itself: Showtime’s Episodes, in which two British writers are horrified to see their acerbic little comedy soggy to American network mush with Matt LeBlanc.
Same The thickness of it, an incredibly sharp and uncomfortable satire in the cowardly and complicit back rooms of Westminster, was not immune to this trend. You may know that its creator Armando Iannucci also gave to HBO Veep, and suppose that, since these are exquisite political comedies, they are, in fact, one and the same. Not so. Veep, stripped of that Armstrong bite, has become an ensemble farce in which everyone’s fortune goes up and down. Corn The thickness of it centered on the stationary object that is spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi). Tucker maintains the power behind the scenes by alternating creative slurs and threats of profanity with steely looks and silent coaxing. Because people fear his barking and anticipate his demands, he hardly ever loses. He’s a little younger, childless Logan Roy – and not just because both characters are rude Scots. (The two, for example, get episodes in which they casually seek to pick their country’s next leader.)
Logan has many other predecessors in British comedy. On some level, he’s the classic British boss character (like the classic American sitcom boss, but with an added dose of class-based ignorance). Even in the UK people are starting to forget The fall and rise of Reginald Perrin (1976-79), but he had very Succession-like vibrations (the main character is a maniacal executive in his forties who feels driven to suicide by the absurdity of the corporate world). Reginald’s boss, CJ, was not the least, a cigar-gnawing pinstripe caricature whose power, including life itself, seemed unchanging. CJ’s slogan was “I didn’t get to where I am today without…” followed by something that most likely didn’t play a role in his rise to the top. Succession doesn’t quite fit the slogans – audiences are too sophisticated for that now – but this one wouldn’t seem out of place in the mouth of a Roy family member born on third base believing he would have hit a triple.
But Logan is not only a boss, he is also, more and more Succession Season 3, the archetypal British sitcom of the dirty, decrepit, ‘piss-crazed’ old man. When I look at him I see Father Jack, the wicked white-haired priest of Father Ted whose main role was to suddenly wake up from a whiskey-soaked sleep to scream “fuck you!” I see Victor Meldrew, the ultimate British grumpy man facing his years of decline, in One foot in the grave. I also see Albert Steptoe, the scheming and contemptuous rag-and-bone man played by Wilfrid Bramble in Steptoe and son (you may also recognize him in a role similar to Paul’s trickster grandfather in the first Beatles movie, A hard day’s Night). The American version, Sanford and sons, looked more like an African American All in the family which softened its generational dynamic as the show progressed. Meanwhile, Steptoe continually and cruelly trampled on all of her son Harold’s plans to escape their interdependent financial situation. Harold Steptoe (Harry Corbett) was so tragically naive, with such big sad eyes, that growing up in the UK I found the inevitable failures of his dreams almost impossible to watch. Kendall Roy, anyone?
That’s the problem with UK sitcoms: they seem to be celebrating power dynamics. The base characters over and over again drown out the light in cringe-like childish egos. You can find Succession even resonates in something as wacky as Young people: Anarchist student poet Rick is Kendall, garish punk Vivian is somewhere on the Logan-Roman axis, hippy Neil is a long-haired lookalike for cousin Greg. Stifling family dynamics are at work in Only fools and horses, most popular UK sitcom that has never crossed the Atlantic: East London entrepreneur Derek “Del Boy” Trotter (David Jason) keeps his younger brother, elderly uncle and a variety of hangers hanging from his get-rich-quick plans. Jason had previously played Granville, a grocer’s assistant stuck working for his Yorkshire uncle Albert Arkwright Open every hour.
The depressing message of those shows stuck in my mind long after the laughter died down, and the message was, do you want to see God laugh? Make a plan to change your unhappy situation. When sitcoms like Office and Peep Show and The thickness of it makes laughing less the norm, that’s when the inherent darkness became clearer, but in a sense, it’s always been there. Blame the weather, blame our literary skepticism, blame decades of rule by the minority Conservative Party which gets a disproportionate advantage in the electoral system and continues to pull the wool over the eyes of working class voters, but Brits like Jesse Armstrong have had to. hard to believe everyone can escape and get by on their own. There would be no British equivalent of Mary Tyler Moore tossing her hat in jubilation at her new gig.
Indeed, the main innovation of Succession perhaps it put women at the forefront of the traditionally male preserve of this maelstrom of British-style comedy. Shiv Roy (new President of Waystar) and Gerri Kellman (its new CEO) are quietly at each other’s throats. Lady Caroline Collingwood (Dame Harriet Walter, herself a British sitcom veteran) has become one of the show’s most notable recurring characters. Roy, enemy Sandi (daughter of Sandy) Furness, White House chief assistant Michelle-Anne Vanderhoven, powerful lawyer Lisa Arthur, comedy news host Ziwe, Crisis PR officials Berry and Comfry: They were all smuggled into the story so effectively in Season 3 that you barely notice that this most uneven series has just taken a giant leap towards some sort of equality.
And that, given the round and continuous nature of the grim British sitcom, is about as close as you’re going to come to a meaningful and lasting change in the world of Waystar Royco.