Succession may be a modern American television behemoth, bagging endless awards and putting its staggering HBO budget to good use, but its origin is much more humble. The series is penned by writers known for British sitcoms, spearheaded by showrunner Jesse Armstrong, who was one half of the core writing duo behind one of my favourite comedies, Peep Show. The two shows may to an outsider seem totally different but in fact they share many similarities, from characterisation, joke structure, wordplay, tone, and even share a character in Stefan Strauss. You can feel those British sitcom sensibilities deep in the core of Succession, including the decision to end the show earlier than expected to prevent it from going stale, which is one of the few things it hasn’t copied from Peep Show specifically with its unprecedented nine series. With Succession so closely tied to its earlier British brethren, could the ending of Peep Show shed light on how the HBO series will end?
As the final episodes approach, Succession fans are throwing out their biggest and boldest theories on how the show will conclude. I remember the speculation when Peep Show was wrapping up and the similarly audacious predictions bandied about: character deaths, prison sentences, switching to a new character’s POV and inner monologue. None of these happened. The final episode of Peep Show is slightly heightened compared to the rest of the show, but not by much. It’s Jeremy’s 40th birthday in an attempt to bring some closure to a narrative which doesn’t end here. His and Mark’s relationship is at its most strained: a punch is thrown, a job is lost, piss is drunk, and a brief kidnapping attempted. The show doesn’t push it too far, nothing breaks the reality of the series, and ultimately it is very low key. And to be honest this is what I’m beginning to expect from Succession.
Someone will seemingly have to end up running Waystar or ATN or whatever is left of Logan’s company – the premise of the show fulfilled – but I’m not expecting significant, definitive endings for all these characters. They are not all going to end up in prison or dead or triumphant or penniless. They’ll have their small personal conclusions while maintaining much of the status quo, at least that’ll be the case if Armstrong’s sensibilities from Peep Show carry over. There, character circumstances didn’t change all that much. An opportunity for growth and advancement was offered to both Mark and Jeremy, to leave with their love interests, exit each other’s orbit, but they both destroyed it by lying. The comedy show about miserable, awful people trapped in a dingy apartment watching TV ends with them doing just that, in the same situation they started the show in, because they can’t change. Even fan favourite supporting character Super Hans rebounds back to his old self after toying with maturity.
Dedication to character truth is a core focus of Armstrong’s work. Peep Show ends with a classic interaction between Mark and Jeremy which is emblematic rather than conclusive. A summation maybe, but not an ending. It defines their characters in a single scene after over a decade of television. Jeremy wants Mark to wank him off, Mark instead wants to read Napoleon letters to Jeremy. It ends with them on the sofa revealing how they would murder each other before one last reveal of their inner thoughts to the audience. Jeremy: “we do love each other really.” Mark: “I simply must get rid of him.” It’s a perfect concentrated dose of these characters to end on that satisfies as an ending without there actually being any conclusion in plot. Life goes on, same as it ever was.
Life will similarly go on for these characters at the end of Succession, but will a final interaction between the Roy siblings be enough for viewers? Yet with the speculation on spin-offs and Armstrong jokingly wondering whether he’ll regret ending the show and want to come back for another season, season 4 will not be all that definitive a conclusion. Except maybe for Kendall. In the Peep Show parallel, Kendall is Mark. I could see their stories being similar. Mark almost gets want he wants, his dream fulfilled, but then fucks it up and is left broken and depressed. I struggle to see Kendall making it to the end of the season as CEO and his downward turn could be more drastic. The show has flirted with Kendall’s suicide before and I think that is a distinct possibility for the finale. If Kendall is Mark, then Roman is Jeremy. Like Jeremy, I could see Roman working through his sexual issues by the end of the show as personal development, and I think he makes sense to run the company too. He has matured this season. As for Shiv? Well, I hope motherhood suits her better than it did Olivia Coleman’s Sophie.
A notable point on the Peep Show finale is that it positions itself as the anti-Seinfeld finale. The nineties US sitcom inspired its later British counterpart, they share DNA. Peep Show is the bizarro Seinfeld, a darker, cringey-er version that doubles down on the inner monologue aspect. But the two shows treat their finales very differently. Peep Show refused to bring back old characters in its finale; no revolving door of cameos, celebrating the side characters and storylines of episodes past. There’s the opportunity for it with Jeremy’s birthday party and my first time watching I was expecting familiar faces. But nobody we know turns up. The show remains true to itself and its characters. Consequences come home to roost as everyone in Mark and Jeremy’s life have shunned them. Likewise, I’m not expecting Succession to end by shoehorning in past characters just because that’s the thing shows do when they wrap up. Don’t expect Lawrence Yee to appear to bring everything full circle.
With Succession almost over, who knows, maybe Jesse Armstrong will want to swap that HBO money and success for Channel 4 and return to Peep Show. He and the cast have half-joked about reviving the show after a couple of decades to catch up with Mark and Jeremy in the exact same position we left them. Or maybe Succession will end in the most shocking way possible and double down on the Peep Show shared universe connections, revealing that it was the sequel series all along. Alan Johnson would be a perfect fit.
How do you think Succession will end? Let me know in the comments and be sure to geek out with me about TV, movies, and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.