Shows like White Lotus allow us to feel some moral superiority over the rich. But as Logan Roy shows, they couldn’t care less
How should a rich person be? In Succession, the HBO drama about the trials and tribulations of the ultra-wealthy Roy family and their crumbling media dynasty, the answer is, mostly, unhappy. In the first two seasons, as patriarch Logan Roy was faced with the problem of choosing one of his disappointing children as a successor we saw a gallery of paranoid elders and neurotic, despondent heirs rattling around their gilded cage, pecking at each other. (The third season will air in the coming weeks.) The characters seemed terrible but real, the tone was an unusual combination of funny and unsettling but clearly articulated – conversations about politics were topical but cynical. It felt weird, honest and fresh. It was excellent TV.
But, in our risk-averse production climate, every good cultural artefact is replicated and warped in the process, usually losing whatever it was that made it good in the first place. And so there has been a trend of similar shows, all playing off the premise of a group of hyperwealthy people, awkwardly bound together – by family connections, staying at the same hotel, or attending the same school – in an unhappy tangle of resentment and neurosis. The cast of characters includes recognisable stock types (the “white feminist” girl-boss, the entitled older man, the rich socialist). The characters talk about the sort of political and cultural topics for which we all know what the “right” position to hold is. The tone is humorous.