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Home » The simple reason why ‘Succession’ was so addicting

The simple reason why ‘Succession’ was so addicting

If you are sick and tired of people going on and on and gushing about HBO’s “Succession” then you might want to skip today’s Poynter Report. Because I’m about to go on and on and gush about “Succession.”

You also should skip this newsletter today if you have not seen the final episode yet. In other words: SPOILERS AHEAD.

I can justify writing about the show because the family at the center of it owns a media and entertainment company. But the real reason I want to write about it is because I consider it to be the best written and acted show in television history. That makes it the best show in TV history, in my books.

The fourth and final season came to a masterful conclusion Sunday night. On one hand, it’s incredibly disappointing that the show has come to an end, that we won’t get to follow the Roy family anymore or watch the remarkable acting of literally everyone on the show. But its fans have to be overjoyed that the writers, in particular show creator Jesse Armstrong, decided to not wear out its welcome and just repeat the same storylines over and over. It brought the story to a plausible and perfect conclusion — really the only conclusion it could have.

Armstrong said in the “Inside the Episode” of the final episode that while he hated to end the show, one of the things he has been able to be “tough about” was “protecting the show and its integrity.”

He added that the stories of these characters don’t end, but we just won’t see them now that the show is over: “They will carry on, but it’s sort of where this show loses interest in them because they lost what they wanted, which was to succeed — this prize that their father held out.”

So what was it about this show that made it so addictive to its fans? The simple answer is it was wickedly funny and yet, in the end, brutally honest and painful. It was a tragedy and comedy rolled up in a ball of complicated characters and a story drawn from equal parts of Shakespeare and today’s headlines from Washington, New York and Silicon Valley. It combined media and politics and, mostly, family and marriage and relationships.

The writing and acting were so good that we found ourselves invested in people that, for the most part, were loathsome. It was all set against the backdrop of gorgeous locations and extravagances that most of us can only dream about.

The New York Times’ Alexis Soloski wrote, “For its mostly middle-class viewers, ‘Succession’ offered both a backstage look at the lives of the ultrawealthy and the comforting assurance that maybe those lives, despite the expensive trinkets that adorned them, weren’t especially nice.”

Soloski continued: “Yet the excellence of the writing and acting meant that viewers couldn’t dismiss them entirely. Lesser scripts would have reduced these men and women to caricatures, but ‘Succession’ insisted on complication. And the actors could find midnight-zone depths even when the siblings and their retainers were at their shallowest. These were awful people, but they were also damaged people, with (the actors) all able to show flashes of startling vulnerability just below the cashmere plate mail.”

And there were just enough hints to real-life people and events — the Murdoch family, Fox News, Elon Musk, Donald Trump, presidential elections — that audiences couldn’t help but watch these deliciously developed characters and scenarios and ask, “Do things like this really happen?”

In a guest essay for The New York Times, Kurt Andersen wrote, “On the surface, the show blurred fiction and reality in a way that was juicy and fun. But its X factor, the reason it resonated so profoundly, was that the blurring of fiction and reality in the world the characters inhabit was a devastating commentary on the blurring of fiction and reality in the world we viewers inhabit. No other show has so skillfully used its real-time proximity to certain people and events — and did so just as life suddenly came to seem so uncertain and unreal. For 41 riveting hours over five very strange, disorienting years, ‘Succession’ led an audience, around eight million of us this final season, into its uniquely uncanny valley.”

NPR’s Eric Deggans wrote, “Succession has been a compelling fable of how the personal lives of the families who control so much of our media and entertainment landscape might actually impact our world. How a sibling squabble can result in a thrown election, and how the bubble of privilege created by their wealth so often insulates them from the consequences of their world-shaking actions.”

He added, “As the Murdochs, Sulzbergers, Musks and Bezoses of the world transform our media and political institutions in real life, it’s worth meditating on the ways broken marriages, family rivalries and bad parenting can lead to seismic decisions affecting all of us. In telling these stories, ‘Succession’ becomes more than just darkly comic entertainment. It’s a warning and a rallying cry — a fiercely entertaining cautionary tale about leaving the fate of our world to the fickle impulses of emotionally stunted plutocrats.”

For fans of the show, what else can you read and listen to as “Succession” comes to an end? Here are some suggestions:

Finally, this is fun. But head’s up. Stop reading if you don’t want to know how the show ends. OK? You’ve been warned.

Was the ultimate ending to “Succession” actually spoiled by the last name of one of the characters?

Now, let’s be clear about something: Tom did not end up as Logan Roy’s successor even though many see it that way. Technically, billionaire Lukas Matsson did. He bought the Roy family’s Waystar Royco. However, Tom — and not one of the Roy kids — did end up as Waystar Royco’s CEO.

Anyway, Tom’s last name is Wambsgans. It’s a bit of an odd name, but there is someone famous whose last name was Wambsgans. There was a baseball player named Bill Wambsganss, who played for Cleveland from 1914 to 1923. And he’s famous for being the only player in World Series history to turn an unassisted triple play.

See the hint now? Bill Wambsganss, the baseball player, took out three players at one time. And Tom Wambsgans, the character in “Succession,” took out the three children vying for control of the company. (One TikTok user made the connection before Sunday’s finale. … Of course, it all could be just a coincidence and, seeing as how Armstrong is British, he might not even be familiar with an early 20th-century baseball player. Still, it’s fun to think about.)

Want to learn more about Bill Wambsganss the baseball player? The New York Times’ Benjamin Hoffman has you covered.

Now onto the rest of today’s newsletter with media notes, tidbits and recommendations:

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at

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