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No TV show has ever weaponized figurative language as well as HBO’s “Succession”

Adam Epstein
A scene from succession

Succession, a dramedy about an American media dynasty battling forces both internal and external to prolong its reign, is the TV show of the year. Critics unanimously adored its second season, which culminated Oct. 13 with a twisty, incisive, tragically beautiful finale that took place entirely on the family’s superyacht roving the Mediterranean.

There are many reasons for the HBO show’s success: sharp writing, great performances, and timely subject matter. But its secret weapon—the thing that really separates it from other series of the day—is its brilliant and often hilarious use of figurative language.

“He’s like a sweaty corpse.”

Succession follows the Roy clan—Logan Roy (the patriarch and aging CEO of global media firm Waystar Royco), oldest son (from a previous marriage) Connor, second-oldest son Kendall, youngest son Roman, youngest sibling (and the only daughter) Shiv, Shiv’s husband Tom, and the fan-favorite cousin Greg. Each member of the family is wildly different from the others in personality, but all share one thing (aside from a bloodline): an expert sense of metaphorical repartee, perhaps passed down from dad.

Insults are so rampant on the HBO drama that news outlets routinely attempt to track them for posterity. The best ones usually involve one sibling making fun of another sibling by comparing that sibling to some awful thing.

“It smells like the cheese monger died and left his dick in the brie.”

In the season two premiere alone, Roman compares his older brother—humbled and humiliated by the events of the previous season, in which he launched a failed takeover bid of the company—to “a fucking neutered hound dog,” “a cadaver,” and “a sex robot for dad to fuck.” Tom, not wanting to miss out on the fun, chimed in with perhaps the best barb of the season: “He looks waxy, like an unshaven candle.”

According to Jeremy Strong, who plays Kendall, these insults are a mix of improv and written lines. But you can tell that many of the best ones are made up on the spot. If you closely watch some of the background actors in any given scene that includes one of these rhetorical flourishes, you’ll usually find someone who is struggling to maintain composure as the cameras are rolling.

Season two insults levied at Tom

scene from Succession
  • “You look like a Transformer.”
  • “You look like a divorce attorney from the Twin Cities.”
  • “Meat puppet”
  • “The cunt of Monte Cristo”

Season two insults levied at Kendall

scene from Succession
  • “He’s like an old, beaten dog.”
  • “Mr. Potatohead”
  • “Yuppie RoboCop”
  • “Cover star for ‘Toxic Male Monthly'”
  • “He’s like a sweaty corpse.”

Season two insults levied at Greg

scene from Succession
  • “You beautiful Ichabod Crane fuck”
  • “The poorest rich person in America”
  • “The world’s tallest dwarf”
  • “The weakest strong man at the circus”

More miscellaneous figurative language

  • “You look like a dildo dipped in beard trimmings.” (Roman to Stewy)
  • “This was supposed to be choreographed. That’s about as choreographed as a dog getting fucked on roller skates.” (Logan, discussing a rival media company hearing about his offer to purchase it.)
  • “Bore Vidal” (Laird to Frank)
  • “Walmart Mussolini” (Rhea, about a Sean Hannity-esque TV news anchor)
  • “You don’t hear much about syphillis these days. Very much the MySpace of STDs.” (Tom)
  • “The ‘Logan Roy School of Journalism?’ What’s next, the ‘Jack the Ripper Women’s Health Clinic?’ (Ewan to Logan)
  • “They call Gil ‘Meth head Santa,’ because he so rarely delivers.” (Hugo, about Gil)

 

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