Why 'Succession' is starting to fall flat

Nicole Hemmer is an associate research scholar at Columbia University with the Obama Presidency Oral History Project and the author ofMessengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics.She co-hosts the history podcastsPast Present” y “This Day in Esoteric Political Historyand is co-producer of the podcastWelcome To Your Fantasy.” The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author. Vista más opinión en CNN.

The third season de “Sucesión,” HBO’s hit drama about the family dynasty behind a fictional conservative cable news channel, has arrived just as its real-world counterparts are back in the news. Fox News just marked its 25th anniversary, continuing to exercise enormous influence on the Republican Party and the conservative movement. And on Wednesday, Donald Trump anunció la creación of the Trump Media and Technology Group, which includes a proposed social media network, news outlet and streaming service.

Nicole Hemmer

These events, still coursing through the news cycle as the new season’s first episode aired, help explain why the show is starting to fall flat. Prestige dramas, even when they’re going for realism, almost always provide some real escapism. In the case of “Sucesión,” not even the luxurious settings and crackling dialogue can make viewers forget the Roy family’s very realand very powerfulreal-world counterparts.
    But there’s more weighing down “Sucesión” than its unhappy reminders of Fox News and Trump’s media ambitions. The show is also part of the waning age of antiheroes, those fundamentally amoral, craven and power-hungry protagonists who have been at the center of prestige television for at least two decades now. And while antiheroes have dominated some of 21st-century television’s best shows thus far, desde “El alambre” y “Los Sopranos” a “Mad Men” y “Breaking Bad,” that era is giving way to shows whose protagonists are flawed and complicatedbut still fundamentally good.
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      The season opener of “Sucesión” follows the aftermath of the dramatic news conference that closed Season 2. Kendall Roy, one of the children of conservative-media mogul Logan Roy, had called the news conference to take the blame for covering up a long history of harassment and abuse at the media company. But at the last moment, he seems to grow both a conscience and a spine: he exposes his father’s role in masterminding the cover up, with stacks of evidence to show the gathered reporters.
        But the episode reveals that rather than transforming into a heroic whistleblower, Kendall remains the same preening, power-hungry, PR-obsessed character he always was, eager to seize control of his father’s company with little concern for the people around him. While it’s always possible that he could genuinely evolve in a positive direction before the series ends, it seems just as likely that his story will end like Don Draper’s did inMad Men”: substituting a yoga practice for inner peace and viewing enlightenment as just another marketable commodity.

        That outcome would be of a piece with the long line of antiheroes who came before Kendall Roy: hombres (antiheroesfrom Tony Soprano on “Los Sopranos” to Frank Underwood onHouse of Cards” — have been almost exclusively men, and mostly White) who behave badly and never learn, whose hunger for power and wealth is never slaked, whose stories never end in redemption.
          The antihero took center stage on television at the tail end of the 1990s, a dark twist on the ironic detachment and nihilism of sitcoms me gusta “Seinfeld,” “a show about nothingwith a firm writing-room rule ofno hugging, no learning.But where “Seinfeld” played that for laughs, the antihero dramas mined it for something more: bleak commentary on human nature, particularly on the violent, selfish, pained qualities of modern masculinity. It’s there in Tony Soprano’s murderous profession, in Don Draper’s alcoholism and insatiable sexual appetites.
          Todavía, even as the age of the antihero was nearing its zenith, another type of television storytelling was beginning to emerge. En programas como “Parques y Recreación,” the NBC sitcom that ran from 2009 a 2015, the core characters and stories were built on warmth, generosidad, friendship, and idealism. Coming out of the era of cringe comedies like “La oficina,” “Parks and Recusually avoided becoming too saccharine, cutting moments of tenderness with sharp comedy.
          Pronto, critically acclaimed shows began to appear that revolved around personal growth and strong communities: “The Good Place,” “Somos nosotros,” “Ted Lasso.” These were prestige shows with flawed characters, complex storylines and far-from-pat resolutions. “The Good Place,” en particular, grappled with serious philosophical questions about goodnesswhile traipsing through the absurdist landscape of the afterlife. “Ted Lasso” continues to put forward a world where comunidad, not individualism, drives the narrative.
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            It is little wonder that such shows have found significant audiences in the last five years, as politics became more cruel and the pandemic left people searching for something meaningfulin addition to an escape from the constant dread and anxiety stirred up by their own lives. Nor is it any surprise that the fictional antihero is now in decline.
            In a country where actual antiheroes seem to continue to triumphand redemption and consequences remain thin on the groundtuning in for more of the same is a hard sell for some. So long as the age of antiheroes dominates in real life, the need for them on television is vanishingly small.




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