Randi Kreiss

Are we what we watch on TV? Say it ain’t so.


It’s easy to admit watching “The Roosevelts,” “Band of Brothers” or “The Dust Bowl,” all high-minded documentaries featured on PBS. It has felt so satisfying to drop into conversation that I loved Ken Burns’s treatment of Hemingway in his three-part, six-hour TV bio-documentary. “Oh, Hemingway,” folks might say, eyebrows raised.
Such mentions might get me a nod of approval, or, one might hope, admiration. She watches “The Planets,” they might think, when she could be watching “Housewives of New Jersey.” Perhaps one friend might say to another behind my back, “She actually watched the two-hour docudrama 'Fantastic Fungi.'” Imagine.
Oh, the hubris of letting it be known that I voluntarily tuned into the 2½-hour story of “The Pilgrims” on PBS. Or the multi-part series on the not-so-thrilling story of American “Reconstruction” following the Civil War.
At any time, I might have chosen “Fear of the Walking Dead” or “Pretty Smart,” possibly the worst-reviewed piece of puerile pap on the air. I could have watched “The Sex Lives of College Girls” or “The Tiger King” or “Naked and Afraid,” but no, I trended toward “The Durrells in Corfu” or “The Great British Baking Show.”
Not only that, but while I’m slipping into my hair shirt, let me confess to judging others by their TV tastes. What to make of a seemingly intelligent human being who chooses to spend hours watching reruns of “The Jerry Springer Show” or “Toddlers & Tiaras”? Clearly not someone to be taken seriously. Certainly an individual lacking in taste and gravitas.

One friend mentioned a Bollywood series, dubbed in English, to which she was addicted. I tuned in, just to educate myself, of course, and I was shocked. Pure banal, unfunny, poorly acted trash. Who was this woman I cherished?
That was the old me, the opinionated, haughty critic of others’ entertainment choices. Then I found “Succession.” In biblical terms, I was found and now I am lost. “Succession” is heading toward the last episode of its third season, and defying the rule of diminishing returns, it is getting better.
It is, according to Wikipedia, “The saga of a fictional American global-media family that is rich, powerful and dysfunctional.” Ah, but it is so much more.
Let me start with this: There isn’t one redeeming character in the series, not a single decent human being. The family is shredding itself from the inside, with fathers and mothers and children all equally capable of eviscerating one another. The writing is smart and fast and acidic. So, how can I put this? I can’t stop watching, even though the story and the themes speak to lives that are morally corrupt and evil. But it’s laugh-out-loud funny. It’s hard to reconcile the issues, and I don’t feel great about my addiction to the series, but I’m hooked. Most of Sunday I think about the new episode dropping that night. It never disappoints.
We have the family patriarch, Logan Roy, his spidery ex-wife, his Lady Macbeth of a new wife, and his kids, three deeply troubled, fractured adults who cringe at their father’s poisonous wrath and yet hover within striking distance. They want his money, and even more, his love. Roy, played by Brian Cox, is the master of this desperate circle of sycophants. It is all a sicko sideshow; still, it’s the most entertaining series I’ve seen in years, probably since Mr. White left his chemistry classroom for a meth lab in “Breaking Bad.”
Kieran Culkan plays Roman, the creepiest of the kids, perhaps the most damaged, given to endless streams and riffs of corrosive commentary and insults. But it’s a close call with Kendall, the would-be rebel squirming under the weight of his father’s leaden shoe. Then there’s Shive, an apt name for the unloved daughter, tormenting her husband with the Roy family brand of love.
I grew up with “The Brady Bunch.” I have no excuse at all for loving “Succession.” I surely would not want anyone to judge my integrity or my morality by my devotion to the series. I don’t admire any of the characters, just the devilish fun of miscreants and their misdeeds.
I may not be so judgmental in the future when family or friends say they love “Duck Dynasty.” Or I may. Suddenly, good taste in TV is on a sliding scale.
My pleasure in watching the wrecked relationships in “Succession” confounds me. It is better written than most TV series, but it sure ain’t Shakespeare. It is a mystery to me, the human heart. Its chambers hide such dark places.

Copyright 2021 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.