The week in TV: Succession; Impeachment: American Crime Story; Four Hours at the Capitol and more

·7 min read

Succession Sky Atlantic
Impeachment: American Crime Story BBC Two | iPlayer
Four Hours at the Capitol BBC Two | iPlayer
Nature and Us: A History Through Art BBC Four | iPlayer

And so the Roys are back for the long-awaited third series of Jesse Armstrong’s celebrated drama Succession, just in time for Halloween. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Succession is fast shaping up to be the American dream as reimagined as a super-rich, overentitled corpse strapped to a runaway ghost train.

At the close of the last series, steel-haired patriarch Logan, played with poetic brutality by Brian Cox, had been shafted by son Kendall (Jeremy Strong), who had backed out of becoming the human sacrifice in the Waystar Royco misconduct scandal. In this new nine-part series, an incandescent Logan (“I’ll grind his bones to make my bread”) plots the next move with employees and progeny, which to Logan amounts to the same thing.

As for the other children, there’s Sarah Snook’s Shiv (the soul of Wednesday Addams seething inside covetable workwear); deadbeat Connor (Alan Ruck), who will presumably one day be left out of Logan’s will because he has been forgotten; and waspish Roman (Kieran Culkin), who will one day be left out of Logan’s will because he has been remembered. Then there’s Gerri (J Smith-Cameron), still batting away Roman’s quasi-oedipal advances. And Tom, Shiv’s patsy husband, played by Matthew Macfadyen as half-man, half-whimper. Meanwhile, Kendall is riding a sanctimony high, ordering Greg (Nicholas Braun) to gauge how his “principled” stand is playing with the masses. “The internet is big, obviously,” says Greg, miserably prodding at his phone. “I couldn’t read it all.”

Watch: Succession's 'writing is some of the best on TV at the minute'

Footage unfurls like a bad hallucination – the shaman; people smoking weed in the Rotunda

Thus it’s off, the latest round of this Game of Thrones with helicopters, share prices, status anxiety, family paranoia and off-colour comedic bangers (Logan musing on his narrowing business options: “Maybe I don’t want to pull my panties down so fast”). Is Succession becoming just a tad overhyped? Of course, but that doesn’t cancel out its essential magnificence.

Looking ahead, there are new faces (Sanaa Lathan as ace lawyer Lisa Arthur; Alexander Skarsgård; Adrien Brody) and new themes, one of which, surprisingly, is frailty. Kendall might be the eternal understudy who’d rather burn down the whole goddamn theatre than spend one more moment in the wings, but maybe season three will be when Logan is finally made to face his biggest, perchance only fear: irrelevance. Until then, Succession continues to be boiling water poured over scurrying, self-serving ants. Enjoy.

“Tell me about him,” rasps Sarah Paulson’s embittered Linda Tripp to Beanie Feldstein’s naive, besotted Monica Lewinsky in the opening episode of the latest 10-part American Crime Story series, Impeachment. “Him”, of course, was the soon to be impeached president Bill Clinton, with whom Lewinsky, an intern in her early 20s, was having sexual encounters in the White House in the 1990s. Tripp, in an infamous woman-on-woman betrayal, secretly taped Lewinsky’s confidences, to be used against Clinton.

Previous ACS fare (The People v OJ Simpson; The Assassination of Gianni Versace) dealt with murder. Here, showrunner Ryan Murphy (Glee; American Horror Story) focuses on the reputational slaughter of Lewinsky. Other themes float through (the Clintons’ Whitewater scandal; the Paula Jones sexual harassment case), but primarily this is about how Lewinsky was used by Clinton, duped by Tripp (who died last year) and trashed by the world (the cigar; the semen-stained dress), becoming the first lady of the globally slut-shamed.

Sarah Paulson (left) as ‘narcissistic busybody’ Linda Tripp and Beanie Feldstein, ‘heartbreaking’ as Monica Lewinsky, in Impeachment: American Crime Story.
Sarah Paulson as ‘narcissistic busybody’ Linda Tripp and Beanie Feldstein, ‘heartbreaking’ as Monica Lewinsky in Impeachment: American Crime Story. Photograph: BBC/FX

 Related: ‘This is about power’: the truth behind Impeachment: American Crime Story 

Going by this opener, Paulson was right to regret donning a fat suit; she didn’t need it for her portrayal of Tripp as, not a monster exactly, more a narcissistic busybody incensed at being sidelined from the White House to the Pentagon. Feldstein is heartbreaking as the babbling, lovesick Lewinsky, though sometimes her performance veers too young. As Clinton, Clive Owen looks bizarre, resembling a dangerously dehydrated Tony Bennett, but in later episodes he convincingly embodies the sexual opportunist trying to shake off his unstable conquest. Impeachment needs to pick up the pace – the first episode trudged along like it was wearing too-tight court shoes – but as a study of historical sexism/misogyny viewed through a #MeToo lens, it could prove interesting.

Also in Washington DC, Jamie Roberts and Dan Reed’s intense, feature-length documentary Four Hours at the Capitol covers the events of 6 January this year, when crowds of “patriots” converged on the US capital, protesting against Joe Biden’s “stolen” election victory. With politicos initially oblivious, and terrified personnel hiding under desks, the armed, volatile crowd pushed through barriers, past vastly outnumbered police and into the Capitol.

Trump supporters storm the Capitol in Washington DC on 6 January 2021.
‘Like the most claustrophobic no-budget war movie ever made’: Trump supporters storm the Capitol in Washington DC on 6 January 2021. Photograph: Amy Harris/Rex/Shutterstock

Navigating a fast-paced timeline, Four Hours focuses on wide-ranging testimonies from those on the spot: politicians, police and rioters, including the far-right US group the Proud Boys. Footage unfurls like a bad hallucination – the shaman with the US flag hanging from a spear (“Justice is coming, baby!”); people smoking weed in the Rotunda; the swaggering and the bloodlust (“fuckin’ traitors”); a battle for the inauguration tunnel, eventually won by police – which unfolds like the most claustrophobic no-budget war movie ever made. By the time Donald Trump (later impeached, then cleared) limply called for calm (“You’re very special”), many people were injured and some had died.

The invasion of the Capitol was a real-world rehash of Independence Day, with the aliens replaced by Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables”. Vivid and meticulous, Four Hours emerges as a cautionary tale about the might of the mob, with a pathetic sidebar of teargas-stained Maga hats kept as souvenirs.

The three-part BBC Four documentary series Nature and Us, presented by art historian James Fox, explores humanity’s relationship with nature through the history of art, examining how people went from revering and feeling part of nature to separating from it and trying to master it.

Last week’s opener followed a twisting path from prehistoric, animal-focused cave paintings to early Christian art that placed humans centre stage. The second episode includes 7th-century China and the origins of landscape painting, the European scientific revolution (Fox argues that art and science are inextricably linked) and artists from the Romantic period who, like prototype ecowarriors, scorned human attempts to subdue and exploit nature.

It’s complex territory but riveting, and Fox and his various talking heads are informed and persuasive. A passionate climate message runs through Nature and Us, and so much more besides.

Watch: Watch the latest clip of Impeachment: American Crime Story Impeachment – Episode 1

What else I’m watching

The Trick
(BBC One)
An agonising and compelling one-off drama, written by Owen Sheers, about scientist Phil Jones (played by Jason Watkins), who was caught up in the 2009 bogus “Climategate” scandal after his research was hacked by climate deniers. In a strong week for drama, this held its own.

Zappa
(BBC Four)
“Freak out!” to this wonderfully sprawling documentary about Mothers of Invention musician Frank Zappa. After his death in 1993, Zappa‘s wife gave film-makers access to unreleased music and unseen interviews. Unlistenable, over-prolific hippy, genius sonic experimentalist or both? It’s your call.

Alma’s Not Normal
(BBC Two)
The final episode of Sophie Willan’s stunning comedy series about a young woman’s hyper-dysfunctional family. Co-starring the equally brilliant Siobhan Finneran, Lorraine Ashbourne and Jayde Adams. Sashay back soon, Alma, pink fake fur and all.

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