Like everyone else in the Acela corridor, Cockburn has been avidly watching the final season of Succession. Without giving too much away, there have been some moments this season that are up there with the best of prestige television: the real-time playing out of a medical emergency in the third episode, for example. Cockburn feels entitled, then, to speak up when the show is less than great — and Sunday night’s election special was an absolute stinker.
One of the best things about Succession is that it feels like it takes place in a realistic parallel universe, very similar to this one, except that Trump and Covid never happened. And the drama is at its weakest when it tries to play solemn about the Roys’ political whims. Sunday set a caricaturish right-wing Roman against an irritatingly bleeding-heart liberal Shiv as Waystar’s Fox News stand-in, ATN, dithered about whether to call Wisconsin for the Republican candidate. The episode gave far too much weight to the importance of the network making an election call: if ATN called early and got it wrong, that’s just what happened at CBS in 2000. If they got it right… that’s what happened at Fox News in 2020. Democracy was not imperiled by either call.
Many observers have pointed out that the usually visceral program had “veered into The Newsroom territory,” a reference to the canceled Aaron Sorkin news drama, the most pompous program to ever air on HBO. Succession may want its viewers to take its political proclamations in earnest — but to borrow from the program’s patriarch: “I love you, but you are not serious people.”
Succession often leans on outside experts to inform the show’s writing — whether about the lives of the superrich or the Murdoch family. For political expertise, it seems the show wheeled in… Tom Nichols, the NeverTrump writer, self-described expert on experts and CNN-MSNBC mainstay. Nichols cameo’d on Sunday’s show as an ATN anchor.
Nichols blogged about his appearance at the Atlantic. “When we were all asked to improvise (in part so that we would look like we were, in fact, having natural conversations on live television), rightist delusions came to us fluidly because they allowed us simply to ignore facts and run with the incendiary stuff,” he wrote. “My short time on Succession helped me understand how mediocre hosts on Fox and other right-wing networks in the twenty-first century can get carried away with their brainless rants, even to the point of possible defamation: Because it’s easy. And really, it’s even fun. Once you don’t care about the facts, and you’re just trying to play ‘Can you top this?’ with the other guests, you may easily find yourself saying utterly nutty things.”
A cutting observation from Nichols there, about “Fox and other right-wing networks” — which of course doesn’t apply to CNN or MSNBC, whose coverage is notoriously po-faced and facts-first.
With only two episodes left, Cockburn hopes that Succession moves on quickly from this blip and sticks the landing in two Sundays’ time.