There is a little bit of sadomasochism in all of us. The feeling that something is going to do us harm, but doing it anyway. That feeling of knowing we should look away, but simply can’t. We often find pleasure in the most excruciating of ways. A morbid curiosity which trumps all reason.
My festive viewing this year has largely been twofold. Catching the last carriage on the Succession bandwagon, by watching a few episodes each evening in the bleak midwinter hours before the Ashes begins. Each drama tapping sweetly into those heavy sadomasochistic desires; I’m yet to avert my eyes.
Succession follows the owners of Waystar Royco, a global media conglomerate, owned by the Roy family. Essentially, the family weasel their way around and screw over everyone in their path, including each other. It’s a simple concept with all the hallmarks of power-hungry families: an egocentric ruthless patriarch, unapologetic nepotism, copious amounts of snakery and extreme grubbiness. It is an utter shit show.
Which brings us neatly to an England team where the shit show is, arguably, very much literal. An Ashes demise that has arrived so swiftly I’m only halfway through Succession’s thirty episodes. HBO may be renowned for lengthy TV episodes, but that feels fairly damning. The series outcome almost inevitable from the moment Mitchell Starc decapitated Rory Burns leg stump. But the journey to get to that conclusion has been savagely watchable. So delightfully painful it should have been viewed through the slot of a peep box.
There was an attempt to rescue disaster pre-Boxing Day. The team’s hierarchy deciding now was the time to play the angry men. A heated meeting with “candid views from senior players” was had. Oh no, not candid views, will someone please think of the children? There was a forced re-watch of the meekly lost wickets from the Adelaide Test. An instruction that things needed to change and a warning that a repeat was inconceivable. Batters told bowlers to pitch it up; bowlers told batters to hit the ball. The situation was critical.
‘Tern Haven’, my next episode of Succession, spat out unexpected synchronicity. Early in the episode, Logan Roy calls an impromptu family meeting. Waystar Royco is attempting the delicate purchase of one of their main competitors, owned by the more liberal Pierce family. However, before selling, the Pierce family would like to vet the Roy family at their home, Tern Haven. It is a cataclysmic disaster. Sensing a deal slipping away, Logan pulls the family together for a pep talk. Instructions are dished out, behaviour is rebuked and everyone is told to do their job. The situation was critical.
What followed provided intense pleasure. Excruciating, hilarious, infuriating, awkward, eye-watering, pleasure.
The Roy family depart their meeting and do the exact opposite of what they’ve been instructed. England bat first and get rolled sharply, with an innings ripe in laughable dismissals.
The balls-up of each being so contrary to company orders, it has us, mere peasants, licking our lips. More, more, more cry we at the elite self-sabotage.
Eldest sibling Connor commences proceedings by having a fractious disagreement with a Pierce family member over politics. Shiv Roy takes up the baton, suggesting that following five years to complete a second PhD, Mark Pierce now won’t need to spend the 12 seconds it would take to look the same thing up on Wikipedia.
Haseeb Hameed tickles a passing Pat Cummins peach to Carey. The scratchy Zac Crawley is squared up by the same man, and David Malan completes the Aussie captain’s triplex, when he stabs a ball to reformed attack dog David Warner. Gilly, Warney, June, AB and Skull are feverishly gleeful.
An evening dinner is the catalyst for Logan’s wife to publicly pull him up for the way he treats her, his son-in-law to refer to himself as a “right-wing ogre” and his daughter to prematurely announce she will be succeeding him on his demise. For the mignardises, second son Kendall gets coked up with a fellow recovering addict and threatens to fly a helicopter, before third son Roman suggests to his girlfriend that a touch of the old necrophilia may solve his inability to have sex.
As he reaches another fifty, Root’s back can carry no more, and he dangles the bat at an unthreatening close-the-over ball from Mitchell Starc. He punches his bat and yells at the ground in frustration. Ben Stokes bizarrely attempts to carve a ball over the cordon, but slaps it straight to backward point. Five balls before dinner, Jos Buttler provides the pièce de résistance for the sadomasochist. He is on 3. England are 128 for 5. He dances down the pitch and uppercuts the ball straight to a fielder twiddling his thumbs in the vast expanse of MCG greenery. England are cooked for 185 and the game is gone.
Logan eventually receives the news that, despite the carnage, a deal can happen. The similarities between the Roy family and the England cricket team clearly run deeper than a questionable attitude to racism, but herein lies the one large difference. The Roy family are winners; this England Test team are born losers.
Sure the comparisons can be gimmicky, but sometimes they simply write themselves. What even is a tern you ask? It’s a bird that perennially nosedives. Oh, and the episode closes as one of the main protagonists literally shits the bed.
The “It Gets Good” theory was coined by TV critic Alan Sepinwall. Essentially these are TV shows you recommend to friends as being slow starters, but are worth persevering with – “it takes a while to get going”, “it’s a slow burn but the payoff is worth it” or “it gets really good from episode six”. Eventually, TV shows started playing on this expectation and baking it into how they develop a show.
However, the problem, as Sepinwall now sees it, is that people don’t have the time to invest where they once did in shows which may, or may not, get better. The TV space is so saturated that there is barely room to breathe. Quite simply there isn’t enough time in a day for all to survive. Adapt or die. Eventually, people will just turn off. Tom Harrison, are you watching?