On Succession, likeable characters, and the scope of a series

succession hbo brian cox jeremy strong kieran culkin sarah snook alan ruck matthew macfadyen nicholas braun jesse armstrong adam mckay

Succession’s first episode recently aired for the first time in the UK; in the US, meanwhile, the HBO series has just finished its first season.

What’s been interesting to observe, though, is the narrative that’s built up around Succession. Certainly, the series is well acclaimed – or, at least, it is now. There’s been a noticeable trend of people who watched the pilot episode and gave up, only returning because of the strong word of mouth from those who did continue with the series; in terms of the show’s reception, Succession is the story of a programme that lost a lot of viewers before eventually reclaiming them.

It’s not difficult to understand why someone might not want to continue watching Succession after finishing the first episode. It’s not that it’s a bad episode, exactly; in a lot of ways, it’s quite compelling. However, focusing as it does on a family seemingly comprised entirely of deeply horrible people, Succession isn’t a programme that goes out of its way to endear viewers to its characters – indeed, the exaggerated displays of ostentatious wealth that punctuate the pilot episode are no doubt intended to elicit contempt for the characters. There’s no ‘pat the dog’ moment, with director Adam McKay and writer Jesse Armstrong going to great lengths to ensure that, by the end of the episode, you’re going to hate more or less all of them.

So!

A few scattered thoughts here on Succession, one of HBO’s latest dramas. (Well, I’m inclined to be difficult and call it a comedy, but still.) What I found quite interesting about Succession is the way that the conversation around it developed, with a lot of people beginning the series, abandoning it, and then returning because of strong word of mouth from those who stuck with it.

That got me thinking a little bit about likeable characters (I’ve been winding myself up a lot about whether or not “likeable” is the correct spelling, and I’m still not wholly sure) and… I called it “the scope of a series”, but what I mean is the amount of time we’re willing to give a programme to unfold and show its full hand. That had been on my mind for a while anyway, ever since I saw a couple of reviews really rip into Genius: Picasso based on its first four episodes, so it was good to get a chance to talk about it.

I’m not, admittedly, entirely sure anything I said made sense, but then I’m never especially sure of that to be honest! I always find the more editorial/opinion esque pieces a little more difficult. Something to work on, I suppose.

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Doctor Who Review: An Adventure in Space and Time

doctor who an adventure in space and time review william hartnell david bradley mark gatiss jessica raine sacha dhawan

An idea as good as Doctor Who doesn’t just happen. Like building a bridge or a house, a great deal of thinking and work goes into a television series before you ever get to see it.

Malcolm Hulke, The Making of Doctor Who

An Adventure in Space and Time is the story of how Doctor Who began. How, 50 years ago, a group of people achieved the impossible – making a television legend against insurmountable odds.

It’s clear from the opening that this was made with love. The effort that went into this movie, into every aspect of it, shows on the screen. All the little details in the sets. In the costume. In the dialogue. The people who made this film quite clearly, quite obviously, love Doctor Who.

Mark Gatiss, who wrote and produced the movie, deserves a lot of praise for his work. After all, An Adventure in Space and Time started with him he originally pitched it to the BBC for the fortieth anniversary of Doctor Who in 2003, and again in 2010 when Matt Smith was cast.

Now though, it’s finally reached its audience.

Throughout, the writing is phenomenal. There’s never a duff line, scene after scene after scene. Three years of Doctor Who is condensed skillfully and respectfully into ninety minutes, all framed in the smartest of ways – using the TARDIS.

There’s a theme of change as well, and the ways in which it can be good and bad. The obvious change is, of course, is in the cast and crew, and is told through William Hartnell as he watches, one by one, all of the original Doctor Who team start to move on and be replaced. It’s seen to be quite sad, but equally, without those changes, we wouldn’t have reached Doctor Who’s fifth anniversary, let alone the fiftieth.

It’s the actors though who really make the script come to life. Jessica Raine, Brian Cox and Sacha Dhawan all give brilliant performances as Verity Lambert, Sydney Newman and Waris Hussein. Through them, another change is explored – change within the BBC. Sydney Newman, the Canadian from ITV. Verity Lambert, the first female producer. Waris Hussein, the first Indian Director. All of them, together, revolutionising the BBC, and TV itself.

The best performance is from David Bradley as William Hartnell. It’s a nuanced, poignant portrayal, upon which the whole movie is based around. His is a truly wonderful piece of work, with some fantastic scenes – in particular, the “I don’t want to go” scene towards the end of the film.

An Adventure in Space and Time is, I believe, the best piece of television ever to go out under the Doctor Who name. It really is that good.

10/10

Related:

50 Days of the Doctor Who 50th

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