Nicholas Britell has become one of the most in-demand film and TV composers in recent years, thanks to his work on “The Big Short,” “Moonlight” and “If Beale Street Could Talk.” But it’s “Succession,” including that catchy instrumental theme song, which Pusha T made into a stunning rap, that has been unlike anything else in his career.
That became apparent late last summer, as Season 2 of the HBO drama turned into a phenomenon, right when the cast and crew were promoting Season 1 for Emmy consideration.
“You never know when you’re working on stuff what’s going to happen, but when it does go to that wavelength, it’s unbelievably exciting,” Britell told me at the Creative Arts Emmys last September, a few hours before he won the award for original main title theme music.
“Succession” also won the drama writing Emmy last year, for creator Jesse Armstrong, and much of that late momentum came from all that Season 2 buzz. The show went on to win two Golden Globes in January, for drama series and drama actor (for Brian Cox, who plays media baron Logan Roy).
Now, with production of Season 3 put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, “Succession” isn’t able to campaign with the backdrop of viewers eagerly consuming the new chapter of the Roy family saga. But “Succession” remains a frontrunner regardless, thanks to viewers’ unending fascination with this wealthy, awful and fascinating group of creatures who are still grotesquely human.
“It was thrilling but I still don’t know what to make of it,” says J. Smith-Cameron, who plays one of the show’s few balanced characters, general counsel Gerri Kellman. “It’s a kind of an unusual piece. This is really complicated and all over the place and because of the rewriting and improving and creative meandering that they do on that, I couldn’t wait to watch it. Not just for the Gerri and Roman stuff, but the whole story. I was delighting in watching it.”
Of course, the other reason why so many of us in Hollywood are obsessed with “Succession” is its take on the world of families such as the Murdochs and the Redstones — real-life media dynasties where we suspect (and hope) shenanigans including “Boar on the Floor” are really taking place. Those titans already exert an astounding, and terrifying, amount of power over the public. “Succession” pokes holes into their mystique.
“It’s a way to indirectly have a conversation about that, those dynasties and big conservative media companies and how they operate,” Smith-Cameron adds. “To have an alternate reality — a fictional version of it that you can watch people let their hair down and see how venal and desperate they are, I think it’s just satisfying.”
But then we empathize when these characters go searching for their father’s approval: And we cringe when Kendall (Jeremy Strong) does so by performing an awful rap.
“As we got into Season 2, we were able to evolve [beyond] that kind of car crash television of watching these awful people to gradually finding yourself emotionally involved,” says “Succession” director Mark Mylod. “And not forgiving their actions, but having context for them. It felt like we blossomed into a show that really knew what it was.”
“Succession” remains a lock for a drama series nomination, but the category is stacked — even without last year’s winner, the now-retired “Game of Thrones.” Shows that have aired more recently, including Netflix’s “The Crown” and “Ozark,” and AMC’s “Better Call Saul” remain in play, among others. But Season 2 of “Succession” is going to be hard to beat.