The week in TV: Succession; Great Expectations; The Power; Wellmania – review
Succession (Sky Atlantic/Now)
Great Expectations (BBC One) | iPlayer
The Power (Amazon Prime Video)
And so, Sky Atlantic’s fourth and final 10-part season of Jesse Armstrong’s drama Succession arrives as per, with waiters swishing through bearing silver trays of costly, tasty-looking canapes that you sense are probably poisoned.
The end of the last series saw Roy progeny Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) left reeling in the actual dust at their mother’s Tuscan wedding as billionaire patriarch-dementor Logan (Brian Cox) effectively blocked them from real power in family company Waystar Royco. There was an added twist of the dagger for Shiv from (now estranged) husband and Logan-stooge Tom (Matthew Macfayden), whose comic double act with Greg (Nicholas Braun) makes them Succession’s weasel-hearted answer to Ant and Dec.
I’ve often felt too thick to watch Succession (all that sabre-rattling business speak). Also too common to appreciate the tsunami of super-rich signifiers (linen separates that scream “Existential crisis on Necker Island”; helicopters casually summoned like post-pub Ubers). All the well-heeled angst that makes you (almost, not quite) forgive them their great wealth.
It’s all on warped view again in the first episode (titled The Munsters), as Logan strolls contemptuously around his birthday party, an event so grimly salubrious that he ends up hanging out with his bodyguard, telling him: “You’re my best pal.” Meanwhile, eldest Roy manchild Connor (Alan Ruck) frets that his 1% share of the US presidential race “could get squeezed”. Elsewhere, his siblings lifelessly gabble about their new “bespoke info hub” venture, barely bothering to towel-whip each other with one-liners (“Your face is giving me a headache”). Then they realise they might be able to outwit the old man on a major business deal. “This is not about getting back at Dad,” lies a suddenly alert Shiv.
The Power is a bubbling sci-fi stew with echoes of Salem… Gilead with added electrons
Peeking a few episodes ahead, rest assured that Succession is as magnificent as ever: a bravura television opera whose supple script, stealthy plotting and lurching twists provide all the mood music you need. Though in this coolly subdued opener it’s hard to know what’s uncoiling. A motorway pileup of estrangements (Shiv and Tom; Logan and “the rats”; Connor and any shred of common sense)? A show trial of Logan’s fatherly failings? Is that episode title a clue: as suspected, were the Roys always just the Munsters with weapons-grade affluenza? Whatever’s going on, adopt the brace position for the start of the endgame.
On BBC One, Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders) is grinding everyone’s gears with his new six-part adaptation of Charles Dickens’s 1861 social-climbing odyssey Great Expectations, concerning young Pip’s craving to become a “gentleman”. This includes (spoilers ahead) reimagined everything: dialogue, scenes, order, as well as swearing and colourblind casting. And, to come: opium addiction and the kinky spanking of businessman Mr Pumblechook (played by Matt Berry, who arguably went through worse in Toast of London).
Then there’s the question: is yet another interpretation necessary? The 2011 Sarah Phelps BBC adaptation starring Gillian Anderson and Ray Winstone is still on iPlayer. Then again, Knight (who also did A Christmas Carol), was, like Pip, raised in a blacksmithing family: how could his take not be interesting? Moreover, demented jilted bride Miss Havisham, played here by Olivia Colman, is one of the undisputed big-ticket “rock stars” of classical literature – are people truly tired of her?
In the event it’s a mixed bag of an opener. There are strong showings, including Johnny Harris as desperate convict Magwitch, who accosts Pip on the grey, gloopy marshes, and nicely conjured atmospheres: silvery mists; candle flames tickling the gloom. However, despite the controversy, episode one is somewhat ponderous. It feels an age before Pumblechook arranges for child-Pip (Tom Sweet) to meet aloof ward Estella (Chloe Lea; the pair are played as adults by Fionn Whitehead and Shalom Brune-Franklin). The first instalment is practically over before La Havisham creaks into view.
But what a Havisham this is: yes, a peak-bitter, eternally bridal nightmare of tatty antique lace, though with opium-glazed teeth and what resembles a toppling garden trellis of soiled, shredded bed linen on her head. Along with the madness, Colman plays her cold, cruel, furious; an implacable gothic Fury with beady alligator eyes. I love it. Far from a twittering, spacey, weeping willow of a Havisham, Colman’s hard, nasty take gives the character back her sting, her agency, her mojo. Ample enough reason, for now, to keep watching.
The Power (Amazon Prime Video) is a nine-part adaptation of Naomi Alderman’s bestselling novel (named by Barack Obama as one of his favourite books of 2017). Created by Alderman, Claire Wilson and Raelle Tucker, it’s a global anthology about mainly young women developing the ability to produce electricity with their bodies; how it emboldens and galvanises them, but also turns the patriarchy against them.
This is a bubbling sci-fi stew with echoes of Salem – for inevitably, once their fingertips start crackling and sparking, females are damned as witches. You can see why Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, is an admirer of Alderman’s: The Power’s themes include not only empowerment but fightback, survival, revenge and toxic masculinity. It’s Gilead with added electrons.
In a pitch-perfect cast, standouts are Toni Collette playing a mayor (“Teen girls are setting shit on fire? I’m not surprised”), Toheeb Jimoh as a journalist, and the main young women: Halle Bush, Zrinka Cvitešić, Auli’i Cravalho and Ria Zmitrowicz, whose scenes with her terrifying London gangster father (a brilliant Eddie Marsan) are heart-stopping. While not flawless (a meandering start; too much padding), The Power is (dare I go there?) electrifying.
On Netflix, there’s Wellmania, an eight-part Australian dramedy created by Brigid Delaney and Benjamin Law, based on Delaney’s book Wellmania: Misadventures in the Search For Wellness. It stars Celeste Barber (also known for spoofing the Instagram posts of the likes of Cindy Crawford) as a pushing-40, hard-partying New York-based food writer who gets stuck in Sydney because of physical and, it turns out, emotional issues.
I was expecting an industrial skewering of the wellness industry, but apart from the odd pithy one-liner (“I jogged for the first time – I feel like I’ve been fucked by a truck”) this is more of an amusing Everywoman odyssey. You’ll need to like Liv, but that’s easy enough: slapping on deodorant, lounging in Spanx, Barber exudes a crisp comic energy. While Wellmania is a bumpy ride, if you stick with it, it gets deeper.
Star ratings (out of five)
Great Expectations ★★★
The Power ★★★★
What else I’m watching
Bear Grylls Meets President Zelenskiy (Channel 4)
Grylls travels to Kyiv to speak to Ukraine’s leader and others. It’s a brisk walkabout with Zelenskiy, with security in tow, but there’s a sense of the husband and father behind the public persona.
Blue Lights (BBC One)
A new series about three rookie police officers in Belfast, starring Sian Brooke. Managing to be at once stark and warm-blooded, it swiftly establishes itself as a cop drama with a difference.
Get on Up: The Triumph of Black America (BBC Two)
Actor David Harewood presents this nuanced, personal docuseries, travelling to the US to pay homage to trailblazers (film-makers, singers, civil rights leaders) who transformed culture and influenced him. Interviewees include Smokey Robinson.