If you're a fan of “Succession” and you have taste, then you most likely still have Kendall “Ken.W.A” Roy's Jeremy Strong rap about his father Logan “L to the O-G” Roy Brian Cox stuck in your head. The song, the glory, and the second-hand embarrassment occurred during an episode that aired two weeks ago “Dundee”, but just because we're heading into the season finale doesn't mean it will be forgotten anytime soon. Or ever.
That's because the musical concoction was cooked up by the same man that’s provided us with the earworm and, well—let's just say it—bop that is the “Succession” opening theme and the rest of the series' score: composer Nicholas Britell.
Britell—who is notably also Barry Jenkins' go-to composer, having worked on “Moonlight” and “If Beale Street Could Talk”—spoke with TV Guide about being a part of this now definitive moment in television history and how he channeled Kendall's inner “flava.”
“The thing I’ve found throughout the show is that serious stuff feels serious, musically, but the more absurd something gets onscreen, the more serious I play the music,” Britell told TV Guide. “When it came time for this sequence, the assignment, in a way, was a reflection of that same duality. On the one hand, it had to be incredibly cringeworthy — Kendall deciding he was going to perform a rap to his father. But at the same time, it wouldn’t work unless it felt like it was actually really well done. It has to feel well-executed for the humor to also be there.”
In the episode, Kendall credits his “boy” Squiggle for helping him make this glorious piece of art, an opening fact that only makes the whole performance that follows somehow even better. In fact, since this episode, “Succession” fans have struggled with the fact that while the scene is, as mentioned, “cringeworthy,” it is also... actually quite good. Even “Succession” creator and showrunner Jesse Armstrong spoke to that fundamental truth in the post-episode “Inside the Episode” featurette:
“The idea of Kendall rapping was, I remember, I was thinking, if you heard a billionaire’s son had done that, you’d be like, yeah, it sounds like the sort of toe-curling thing you might see on Instagram... I think it’s pretty embarrassing. It’s also kind of good.”
Try as you might to fight it, one thing is uncomfortably true: Kendall Roy's got bars. Sure, the rap's accompanying beat—a “reinterpretation” of Johann Sebastian Bach's “Prelude in C Minor” from Britell's collection of college beats—certainly helps him out, but a beat can't contain the hot fire that is a deeply personal lyric like, “Don’t get it twisted / I’ve been through Hell / But since I stan dad, I’m alive and well.”
“The show is constantly embracing the different modes, different tones, and different emotions it’s exploring,” Britell said. “The reason I chose the beat was that it actually resonated with some of the courtly classical sound I’ve been writing for the score. I used to make so many beats, but that one felt like a spiritual cousin to some of the things I’m working on right now.”
Now, it's one thing for actor Jeremy Strong to rap over a Britell beat in character; it's a whole other thing for a notable rapper like Pusha T to do the same thing in reality. Which is exactly what's happened, as HBO has recently announced an official remix of the “Succession” theme by Pusha T—titled “Puppets Succession Remix”—due for release this Friday, just in time for the second season finale on Sunday.
Maybe it's because of its Emmy categorization in drama, but recently, there's been a lot of discussion about “Succession” as though it's not intentionally funny; as though the idea that it could be looked at as a comedy — albeit, a dementedly dark comedy — is preposterous. It tends to end up being compared to very clear-cut comedies, especially its cable network-mate, the terrific “The Righteous Gemstones,” in a way that describes those series as “the funny version of ‘Succession'”… as though “Succession” itself isn't inherently the funny version of “Succession.”
“Succession” has always been a dark comedy masquerading as a prestige drama. HBO’s hourlong critical darling honestly has more in common with “Fleabag” or “Flowers” than it does “Ozark.” But that's also because it's specifically a dark British comedy conveniently masquerading as an American prestige drama.
Succession is just Arrested Development minus jokes.
fight me on it. Or plz make me memes!
— LONG LIVE THE DREW FLESH @videodrew September 22, 2019
FYI, “The Righteous Gemstones” = hilarious “Succession.”
— Caissie St.Onge @Caissie September 24, 2019
And it goes deeper than just the fact that the series comes from prolific British comedy writer Jesse Armstong. Well, it begins there, but it definitely goes deeper. The question is how an hourlong series that tackles topics like abuse, corporate espionage, drug addiction, and even murder — an hour-long series about truly deplorable rich idiots who genuinely use the terms “libtard” in conversation and arguably have no soul, assuming that this takes place in a world where souls do in fact exist — can be considered comedic in its own well-established soul.
The answer is that “Succession” is simply Armstrong's workaround at creating an American remake of his own original hourlong comedy, “Bad Sugar,” which told the story of “sexy and scheming heirs of a wealthy mining mogul as they battle each other to become the next head of his fracking empire.”
Created by Armstong and his regular writing partner Sam Bain, “Bad Sugar's” one and only episode aired in 2012. It was subsequently ordered to series in the UK, but due to the cast and crew's ever-growing schedules — the series starred Peter Serafinowicz, Sharon Horgan, Olivia Colman, Julia Davis, and Reece Shearsmith, who have all been pretty busy since — it was never able to come together.
In 2016, it was announced that Fox was developing an American remake. The remake was to be written by Patricia Breen, who had also written the unaired pilot for the attempted American remake of Sharon Horgan's “Dead Boss.” This remake also never came to fruition, but if it had, it wouldn't have captured the same magic as the original series, even if it were good.
So what's smarter than to bypass the “remake” stage altogether and Americanize your original vision as a new series? “Succession” simply infuses less parody into its formula than “Bad Sugar,” but the satire is still there, right down to the unfortunate souls who have ended up attached to the wealthy Roy siblings. Instead of a fracking empire, it's a media empire. It's all bigger — and with more of a budget behind it — which helps it feel especially epic.
Yes, “Succession” was nominated in the drama category at the Emmys, and yes, “Succession” is an hourlong series, and yes, there are a number of prestige dramas like “Mad Men” adept at comedy without shedding their more respected structures. But the fact that it feels epic seems to be the issue when it comes to classifying “Succession’s” genre. Because “epic” can't possibly equate to “comedic,” can it? Recently, there’s also been a lot of talk about the series in the context of the works of Shakespeare, also ignoring the inherent comedy in even Shakespeare’s most dramatic tragedies. That belief feels like the major reason people are quick to consider “Succession” a straight-up drama, as it's seemingly too poignant and pointed to be considered a comedy. Unless it was a half-hour, that is.
When people discuss “Succession” as a drama first and foremost, for some reason, the comedy of it all is treated as incidental, as a small part of the series. But even if you consider “Succession” a drama first and comedy second, it's worth acknowledging that its very existence is still very much rooted in comedy. Brutally dark comedy, but comedy nonetheless.
“Succession” airs its Season 2 finale on Sunday, October 13 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
Also attending the annual Pacific Palisades event were Kirsten Dunst, Busy Philipps, Lea Michele and Wilmer Valderrama.
The Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic Los Angeles returned to Pacific Palisades' Will Rogers State Park for its annual polo match on Saturday.
Celebrating its 10th year, the event saw Hollywood and sports stars and influencers don their very best polo attire for an afternoon of free-flowing champagne, ponies and mingling. Returning to the annual event were stars including Kaley Cuoco, Busy Philipps and Christina Hendricks. Regina Hall and Succession actor Nicholas Braun were among those making their Polo Classic debuts.
Event founder and polo star Nacho Figueras told The Hollywood Reporter that there's one thing behind the event's growing star support: history.
"Walt Disney, Clark Gable, Will Rogers, they were all here playing polo then would go to a polo lounge for drinks. They did movies, then they played polo," Figueras told THR. "I think all that history of polo here in Hollywood is very strong and very deep... all we did was dig up a little bit and let it grow again."
Hendricks, a familiar face to the annual event, told THR there's no other outing like the Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic.
"It's one day a year that you get to do something like this, that's so special," she said. "It's sunny, it's beautiful, it's really just perfect."
The Good Girls actress also told THR that she looked forward to watching the game and drinking champagne with co-stars Mae Whitman and Retta.
After they received the invitation, Hendricks said she and her fellow actresses started planning for the event during production.
"We talked about it on set, we talked about what we're going to wear," she said. "They're two of my best friends ... It's so nice to come out and drink champagne and be in the sun and talk about it on Monday."
Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Veuve Clicquot
Good Girls stars Christina Hendricks, Mae Whitman and Retta
Also returning to Will Rogers State Park for the annual polo event was Karen Gillan, who attributed her fondness for the sport to her Scottish background.
"It's really a dynamic, quite theatrical sport and they supply you with a lot of alcohol, so of course I'm here," she told THR.
The actress, whose upcoming projects include Jumanji: The Next Level, Spies in Disguise and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, also responded to Martin Scorsese's recent comments about Marvel movies.
On Thursday, Empire magazine published an interview with the Taxi Driver and Goodfellas director in which he slammed the comic-book films stating they are "not cinema" and likened them to "theme parks."
"I would absolutely say that Marvel movies are cinema," said Gillan, who plays Nebula in the Guardians films. "My experience, working on Marvel films, with someone like James Gunn ... there's so much heart and soul."
Stepping onto the Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic Los Angeles scene for the first time was Regina Hall who told THR that she's never been to a polo match before. The actress also shared that bringing the old Hollywood polo traditions to 2019 means celebrating fellow actors.
"The thing about this event is that it's a big event, but it also feels intimate," she said. "I think that's what's important; we're focused on the idea of celebration and championing each other and watching a fun polo match."
Hall also expressed her love for horses and how a polo game immediately reminds her of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.
"This is where the love story all came together," Hall said remembering Roberts' "iconic" scene.
Roberts, who also attended the event, donned a polka dot ensemble, channeling her character from the 1990 film.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Designer Rachel Zoe, who has attended the event every year, kicked off the polo match by throwing out the ceremonial first ball.
Inside the VIP lounge, stars including Braun, Kyle Maclachlan, Lea Michele and Anna Camp caught up with friends and helped themselves to glasses of champagne and rosé.
Also in attendance were Kirsten Dunst, Mandy Moore, Justin Hartley, Wilmer Valderrama, Garcelle Beauvais and Candace Cameron Bure.
One of the most acclaimed shows of the past decade gets a follow-up movie, a recent Emmy winner wraps up its season and a network-defining series begins its final season. That's all on tap, along with more than 15 other notable premieres and finales, for the week of Oct. 7.
Here is The Hollywood Reporter's rundown of some of the coming week's highlights. It would be next to impossible to watch everything, but let THR point the way to worthy options each week. All times are ET/PT unless noted.
The Big Show
Breaking Bad has a prequel series in Better Call Saul, but the series finale in 2013 seemed like a pretty definitive endpoint for the show. Or, perhaps not. Six years after it aired, the story picks back up again in El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, premiering Friday on Netflix.
El Camino follows Aaron Paul's Jesse Pinkman after he flees the neo-Nazi compound where he was being held in the series' final episodes. Series creator Vince Gilligan, who wrote and directed the movie, has kept details close to the vest, but told THR that the image of Jesse escaping stuck with him: "To my mind, he went off to a happy ending. But as the years progressed, I thought, 'What did that ending — let's just call it an ending, neither happy, nor sad — what did it look like?'"
The movie will presumably answer that question; it also has a theatrical run in 68 cities and will air on AMC, the show's original home, at a future date to be determined.
Also on streaming ...
New: Hip-hop competition series Rhythm + Flow Wednesday, Netflix features judges Cardi B, Chance the Rapper and T.I. looking for the best aspiring rappers in the country; horror series The Birch premieres Friday on Facebook Watch.
Returning: Season two of Insatiable debuts Friday on Netflix.
On cable ...
Finales: Everyone's favorite hateable ultra-rich family bows out for the time being when Succession airs its second-season finale at 9 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13 on HBO. The finale of The Righteous Gemstones follows at 10:10 p.m., and the series finale for Ballers comes at 11.
New: Samurai Jack creator Genndy Tartakovsky brings Primal to Adult Swim at midnight Monday. The animated miniseries about a caveman at the dawn of evolution and a dinosaur on the brink of extinction will air for five consecutive nights.
Also new: Lifetime is the first to get a dramatized version of the college admissions scandal on the air with a movie titled, aptly enough, The College Admissions Scandal 8 p.m. Saturday. Nickelodeon debuts a new version of Are You Afraid of the Dark? at 7 p.m. Friday.
Returning: New seasons of Below Deck 9 p.m. Monday, Bravo, Temptation Island 10 p.m. Thursday, USA and Gold Rush 9 p.m. Friday, Discovery.
On broadcast ...
Final season: When Supernatural premiered in September 2005, The CW didn't exist yet the show debuted on forerunner The WB. The show kicks off its 15th and last season at 8 p.m. Thursday on The CW, countless demons and back-road miles from its pilot, when two brothers Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki set out to chase down an urban legend and find their missing dad.
New/returning: The bulk of The CW's lineup also debuts this week: All American and Black Lightning at 8 and 9 p.m. Monday, The Flash at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Riverdale and newcomer Nancy Drew at 8 and 9 p.m. Wednesday, Legacies following Supernatural at 9 Thursday, and Charmed and Dynasty at 8 and 9 p.m. Friday. PBS' Finding Your Roots also kicks off a new season at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
In case you missed it ...
It seems odd to think of a David E. Kelley show as being under the radar, but given the crush of premieres in recent weeks, Goliath might have gone unnoticed. The third season of the legal thriller starring Billy Bob Thornton — joined this time by Dennis Quaid, Amy Brenneman, Sherilyn Fenn and Griffin Dunne, among others — is streaming on Amazon.
It would please Roman Roy, Kieran Culkin’s unctuous, cocky, spoiled-brat character on “Succession,” to know that Culkin has been featured among Variety’s New Power of New York List.
Culkin plays the sniveling but charming Roman in the HBO series, one of Waystar Royco’s chief and most incompetent leaders. As played by Culkin, Roman is impotent, locked in a bizarre, can’t-turn-away-from, downright Oedipal relationship with his colleague Gerri, who in turn gets off on sending him to the bathroom to wank it. She’s played by J. Smith-Cameron, the wife of Academy Award winner Kenneth Lonergan, who’s worked with Culkin onstage, as well as in the director’s sprawling and famously beleaguered film “Margaret,” which finally saw the light of day in 2011 after a bout of post-production hell. By the way, it’s masterful.
For Variety’s New Power of New York list, playwright turned Oscar-winning screenwriter Lonergan “Manchester By the Sea” has penned an essay on behalf of Culkin who, for his hilarious and self-degrading turn as Roman in “Succession,” is a likely 2020 Primetime Emmy contender.
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“It's hard to write about Kieran in this context because I genuinely love and admire him, and genuinely find him aggravating. Only when he is unsure of himself is my first impulse to praise and encourage him. But I have to clarify: His values, for lack of a less dirtied-up word, and his morals — which are way too severe for me — will always restrain him from being obnoxious because he's doing well. He's just one of those people who are pleasanter when you have them at a disadvantage, so that's how I prefer it. Maybe that's just my own insecurity talking,” writes Lonergan in the essay.
Kieran Culkin in “Succession”
Culkin starred in Lonergan’s play “This Is Our Youth” in 2014, but he also worked with Lonergan while shooting “Margaret” in 2005. That film — a messy, sprawling, moving post-9/11 coming-of-age drama set in New York and led by Anna Paquin — took years to get off the ground, with Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker stepping in to edit the version that finally reached theaters in 2011.
The essay goes on: “Another reason it's hard to write about Kieran as a New Power in Hollywood is that apart from the perfectly reasonable desire to make a good living and play good parts, he has never demonstrated the slightest ambition to be anything of the kind. His career has dragged behind his creative interests, not the other way around. That he hasn't totally sabotaged himself as a result is only partly a testament to what a good actor he is; it's also a testament to the reassuring if sporadic persistence with which audiences respond to exceptional work even when it's not under a horrible and garish spotlight. When someone like Kieran does gain the appreciation of a wider audience, it's so rewarding to your sense of justice that you don't mind having to strike another name off your private roster of underappreciated great artists.”
Who the hell knows what’s next for Roman in “Succession,” but all fans of the show are enjoying riding the ride. Season two ends October 13 — all too soon.
Succession is a show that constantly forces us to question our own moral compass. Should we root for certain characters? Should we laugh at certain jokes? Should puffer vests and turtlenecks look that good on the human frame?
But perhaps the greatest moral conundrum this HBO drama presents targets our baser instincts, our biological imperatives, our sexual preferences, the ramblings of our own inner hormone monster: Why do we find Succession’s resident sad boy, Kendall Roy, so damn attractive?
Kendall was the heir apparent in season one, a billionaire manic pixie dream boy who got hyped for board meetings by listening to the Beastie Boys and probably climaxed to the thought of “controlling the narrative.” Played by the multifaceted, unfairly talented Jeremy Strong, Kendall gave off mad sad fuccboi vibes. He was a Silicon Valley wannabe-John Keats, an Edgar Allan Poe raised in the Hamptons. He had ambition and drive, but no backbone to sustain them, stuttering through proposed takeovers and questioning big initiatives at the slightest hint of criticism from his overbearing, abusive father.
He was a daddy’s boy masquerading as the bold heir apparent to the Waystar Corp., a young-blood intent on reshaping his father’s legacy but unsure of how to go about it. Kendall Roy was the kind of Wall Street hotshot who’d gleefully swing his dick around the boardroom one second before apologizing when it inevitably slapped someone in the face the next.
And in season two, he only grew worse.
After launching a hostile takeover of his father’s company, Kendall, an embattled addict, rediscovered his love for nose candy – a doomed courtship that led him to seek drugs from a 20-something busboy during his sister’s wedding across the pond. The trip to score some powder ended with Kendall driving off into a ravine, the young waiter drowning, and the eldest Roy slipping back to the sanctuary of his family’s castle, into the arms of his manipulative father who used the whole affair to re-establish dominance over Kendall and the Waystar brand.
This season, we’ve watched as Kendall Roy descended further into Techno Gatsby madness, drowning his guilt and regret in model p*ssy – lots of it, just ask him – and more drugs. He’s limp-dicked his way through mergers and acquisitions, played errand boy to his father’s nastiest whims, cried at the kitchen sink of the family whose son he killed, shit the bed literally and, perhaps most embarrassing of all, performed a cringeworthy rap to honor his father’s fifty-year anniversary in the media business.
We should, in all fairness, hate Kendall Roy. So why then has he become a fan-favorite character on this show?
There’s the obvious attraction – Kendall Roy is the physical embodiment of an age-old literary trope, the sad, dark prince. He’s wealthy and tortured and burdened with great responsibility. He needs saving, his droopy face and puppy dog eyes tell us, and we can’t help but feel the compulsion to give this saddest of billionaire playboys a simple hug – he asks for one, quite often.
Self-loathing is a kink, even if we hate to admit it, and watching Kendall Roy spiral through his depression, wrapping himself in William Westmancott bespoke three pieces and snorting line after line of coke is the classiest, most aspirational form of self-destruction. Kendall isn’t wallowing in mud, he’s not sleeping in his car or panhandling on the street. He’s shitting himself in high thread count Egyptian cotton sheets and beelining for the roof of his company’s building in calfskin sneakers. His privileged form of despondence is almost enviable – it’s melancholic wealth porn we can’t help but watch.
It doesn’t help that Jeremy Strong is unconventionally swoon-worthy. Even when he showed up to the 2019 Emmys in an outfit almost assuredly stolen from his character’s wardrobe, the torch fans carry for him didn’t blow out. He walked the purple carpet looking like a 19th-century British butler haunting a decrepit mansion and social media confirmed that he could, indeed, still get it.
But the real appeal of Kendall Roy comes from this everyday man vibe he seems born with; a congenial, grounded personality that survived despite his elitist roots and cold upbringing. Kendall Roy may be, as he says, the human equivalent of a cock ring made from calamari, but he’s a calamari cock ring we could stomach having a beer with, a gloomy, gilded Byronic anti-hero. Kendall feels more approachable than his closed-off, stone-faced sister Shiv. He feels less unpredictable and combustible than his damaged younger brother Roman. And God, isn’t anyone better than Connor?
On a show where so many individuals consistently do so many reprehensible things and rarely ever feel guilt over them, Kendall Roy feels like an outlier. To see him suffer in season two, even as he contributes to the suffering of others, feels authentic and oddly uncomfortable on a show that’s built a reputation for dealing in uncomfortableness; a show where characters spout off about circle jerks and describe syphilis as the Myspace of STDs and trade soul-destroying barbs as an expressional form of familial love.
Maybe we gravitate towards Kendall Roy because we’d like to think, out of all the family members on this series - were we gifted with the same privilege and forced to suffer through the same callousness and unrelenting scrutiny - we’d turn out at least somewhat of a decent human being. Kendall Roy isn’t a good person, but he’s one of the better people on this show and isn’t it in our own hubris to want to believe the best in ourselves?
So yeah, maybe that’s it.
Or, as Roman might say, maybe we’re all just sick f*cks with a specific fetish for miserable fuccbois in fisherman beanies. Who knows?