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Encore: HBO's hit dark comedy 'Succession' returns for its final season

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

The Roys are back in our lives. The HBO hit "Succession" returns for its fourth and final season on Sunday. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says it's an impressively funny and ambitious start to a landmark season featuring a foul-mouthed family running a huge media company.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: There is a lot that happens in the first four episodes of "Succession's" final season, and it's tough to talk about any of it without dropping huge spoilers. But I'll try. So let's start with this. The show paints a devastating portrait of the three youngest adult children of Rupert Murdoch-style media magnate Logan Roy. As the season begins, the kids - or sibs, as they're sometimes called - are on the outs with their old man, aiming to create a new media company on their own. But while sifting through a bunch of terrible marketing ideas, they're mostly dropping a lot of empty jargon, especially Roman Roy, played by Kieran Culkin, and Jeremy Strong's Kendall Roy, who speaks first.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SUCCESSION")

JEREMY STRONG: (As Kendall Roy) The Hundred is Substack meets Masterclass meets The Economist meets The New Yorker.

KIERAN CULKIN: (As Roman Roy) I feel like we said iconic and you guys are leaning ironic.

DEGGANS: Meanwhile, in another location, Logan Roy is holding a birthday party. Cousin Greg, played by Nicholas Braun, has brought a new date to the event. This doesn't sit well with Logan's personal assistant/girlfriend girlfriend, Kerry, played by Zoe Winters. Greg tries to explain.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SUCCESSION")

NICHOLAS BRAUN: (As Greg Hirsch) I brought a date. That's OK, right?

ZOE WINTERS: (As Kerry) What's her name? What's her full name?

BRAUN: (As Greg Hirsch) Bridget (ph).

WINTERS: (As Kerry) Is it random [expletive]? Is it random [expletive]? Is she from the apps, Greg?

BRAUN: (As Greg Hirsch) I really like her. I might have fallen for her.

WINTERS: (As Kerry) Oh, that's great. How many previous dates have you had?

BRAUN: (As Greg Hirsch) Kerry, I - you know, I'm not sure this is appropriate.

DEGGANS: And let's not forget Connor Roy, played by Alan Ruck, Logan's oldest child who's running for president and polling at a not-so-impressive 1%. He tells Cousin Greg he's worried he might have to spend more money on advertising to keep his polling up.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SUCCESSION")

ALAN RUCK: (As Connor Roy) Fear is in these last days it could get squeezed.

BRAUN: (As Greg Hirsch) Squeezed down from one? Because that's the lowest number possible.

RUCK: (As Connor Roy) No. There's, you know, decimals. It gets awfully spendy to get aggressive.

BRAUN: (As Greg Hirsch) Like, how much?

RUCK: (As Connor Roy) Like, another hundred mil.

BRAUN: (As Greg Hirsch) One hundred million - damn.

DEGGANS: As always, "Succession" offers loads of expertly crafted dry humor while showing a family isolated and infantilized by its enormous wealth and emotional disconnection. The children may spend millions to launch a media company or political campaign, but you get the sense they couldn't actually pull off any initiative of their own if they didn't have an army of flunkies to actually execute it. And Logan Roy, played by Brian Cox, is the most isolated of all. Fans will recall at the end of the third season, Logan renegotiated his divorce settlement to take power from his children within his company. With the three sibs now united against him, Logan is grumping through life like a lion with a thorn in his paw, unable to admit he misses his children and demanding obsequious underlings entertain him.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SUCCESSION")

BRIAN COX: (As Logan Roy) Come on. Roast me. Give me a drubbing. Frank, start. Be funny.

PETER FRIEDMAN: (As Frank Vernon) Not really my thing, Chief.

COX: (As Logan Roy) Oh, you don't think I could take it?

FRIEDMAN: (As Frank Vernon) I mean, I can. The thing about Logan Roy is he's a tough old nut.

COX: (As Logan Roy) Oh, Christ, Sid f****** Caesar.

DEGGANS: The real drama of "Succession" often plays at the margins - how a character reacts after an embarrassing moment or acidly tart putdown. And the cast reveals some amazing acting chops here, especially after a huge event in the third episode, which changes everything. I won't detail it here, but it does reset all the relationships, revealing that "Succession" isn't just a satire of how the whims and dysfunctions of the wealthy affect our world. It's the story of a deeply disordered family that somehow still struggles to find each other through the steepest obstacles that wealth and the world can supply. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.
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