With the holidays upon us and many reuniting with loved ones after a year apart, we take a moment to look at a few families of the small screen this week – from cable’s most brutal brood to a classic comedy clan to a filthy cartoon funny.
Succession / HBO
Despite the dozens of bingeable options that offer immediate satisfaction, HBO’s Succession has pulled ahead of the pack to become the television event program of the season. And it’s little wonder why. The writing and the acting is on par with the streaming network’s best. Centered on media mogul Logan Roy (Brian Cox) his greedy hellspawn’s company Waystar RoyCo. the show makes betrayal, backstabbing, and wanton debauchery seem like job requirements.
Now in its third season, Succession delves deeper into depravity and destruction. For Logan, it is a simple matter of which of his atrocious children will take over the evil empire he spent his life creating. Using Ayn Rand’s work as a guide to parenting, Logan pits his children against each other, with only the strongest and most obedient to receive his coveted approval.
Right now, the Roy family find themselves in shambles after Kendall (Jeremy Strong) refuses to take the fall for a recent scandal involving the family’s cruise line, instead tossing dear old dad under the bus. The family and the conglomerate it controls are thrown into chaos as the remaining Roys attempt to get ahead of the feds, the police, the press, and any vulture looking to cash in on the family feud.
Strong’s turn this season is mesmerizing. He’s a man who thinks himself the hero, but in truth is a coward. His ability to portray every bad decision with an air of cocksure chutzpah projects his privilege, and not an ounce of wisdom. Almost everything he does causes cringe. Strong is exceptional, but truly, each and every actor gets a chance to let their inner scumbag shine. Matthew Macfadyen as Tom Wambsgans, daughter Shiv’s (Sarah Snook) husband, also turns in an award-worthy performance as the Roy family “Christmas Tree,” an object in which everyone can hang their crimes.
Succession takes place in a world populated by villains. Each deplorable act and biting insult builds tension and anxiety within the clan that’s as tangible as it is trainwreck-ish to watch. You can’t look away and why should you? Succession is great television, and as this Sunday’s season finale looms, we expect another cruel yet compelling climax.
The Conners / ABC, Hulu
Back in 1988 when ABC’s Roseanne first debuted, the show was groundbreaking. At the time, it was rare for primetime to portray a family that wasn’t upper middle class; but then came the Conners. They were poor, they struggled, they supported each other but fought often, and they were loved by millions.
It is easy to forget this history given the show’s more recent controversy. After its initial return, She Who Shall No Longer Be Named allowed her politics and Twitter account to overshadow the show, ending with both her and the show getting cancelled. However, the family soldiered on without her, becoming The Conners— an empty husk of a sitcom from a bygone age that attempts to be relevant but only succeeds in parodying its former glory.
Though the cast is made up of familiar faces from the original show, the humor itself is reminiscent of the strained final season in which the series ditched reality for satire. Though seasoned vets Sarah Gilbert, John Goodman, and Laurie Metcalf do their best, the material just isn’t worthy of their considerable talents. Even the inclusion of the uber gifted Katey Sagal does little to help this listless series. Since the removal of its former namesake, the Connors themselves have become typecasts of their worst character traits, creating an unfulfilling comedy that fails to find its full potential.
In many respects, The Conners is a lumbering dinosaur from an antiquated era. It’s a traditional sitcom with all the fixings trying to find its place in a new world order of streaming services. The writing captures the concept of the characters, but it omits the heart that once held the family together and made us care.
F is for Family / Netflix
Animated shows about dysfunctional families are nothing new. Back when smoking was still allowed in hospitals, shows like Wait Till Your Father Gets Home walked so that The Simpsons could run. There are dozens of fractured families in toon form on streaming, cable, and primetime. So many, in fact, that a few fall through the cracks. Such is the case with F is for Family, a Netflix toon that reminds audiences that society as a whole was lucky to have survived the ’70s.
Set in the “Me Decade,” Bill Burr’s family-unfriendly animated offering features the voices of Burr, Laura Dern, Justin Long, and Sam Rockwell as we follow the hapless Frank Murphy, an angry man just doing his best to navigate the choppy waters of suburban life.
Since the death of his estranged, abusive father in the fourth season, Frank has been living on the edge, prone to crying jags in between his usual fits of rage. His inability to process the death of his father, coupled with the arrival of a new baby and massive changes at his job, puts a strain on the family man, causing him to act irrationally. In this fifth and final season, Frank finds his stride as a modern-day Willy Loman, but one that says “fuck” a lot as he threatens his kids.
The brash writing, the quality of the animation, and the earnest effort from the voice cast make F is for Family an entertaining binge for Gen-Xers, but Gen-Zers might have a hard time relating to the material. The exaggerated characterizations that populate this version of the ’70s might be lost on those who are a generation (or two) away from the era.
Amidst the horny kids and hormone monsters on Big Mouth, the Belchers, the Simpsons, the Griffins, and a multitude of Rick Sanchez’s, the Murphy family got lost in the shuffle. Now in its final season, it is doubtful F is for Family will set the world on fire at this point, but that doesn’t mean its brutal humor deserves to be ignored.