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Are ‘Succession’ and ‘Yellowstone’ Actually the Same Show?

At first glance HBO’s Succession and Paramount’s Yellowstone couldn’t be more different.

Succession, set in the super elite world of corporate America’s one percent, with its big cities and wealthy parties, seems the polar opposite of Yellowstone’s down on the ranch, modern day western “America First!” throwback. Each show also seems to appeal to vastly different audience demographics although they both celebrate the spoils of extreme conservative lifestyles.

But their similarities are too striking to ignore.

Both shows have a big-name star playing the dark moody Dad who presides over a family empire that’s bigger than all of us

Succession, a thinly veiled take on the Murdoch family, stars Brian Cox as Logan Roy, the dysfunctional family patriarch. Yellowstone, a storied cattle and horse ranch so steeped in Americana the majestic views scream, “You can’t shoot this in a studio!” stars Kevin Costner as patriarch John Dutton. Neither actor moves very much because neither man has to. When they do move, they are being moved, either in a huge black vehicle or in a company helicopter. Each man had a sexual tryst with a powerful woman who could ultimately help their business further succeed. Both Cox’s Roy and Costner’s Dutton have precise visions on how the family business should succeed, namely, “my way.” Both fathers had several boys and raised their only daughter to be a man.

Each show has cutthroat daughters desperately seeking their father’s approval.

Kelly Reilly’s Beth Dutton and Sarah Snook’s Shiv Roy are the only daughters in a family full of brothers. Both women go out of their way to stand out for their commanding father and are both big names in their perspective industries. Destroying someone’s reputation or throwing them to the wolves is no problem for either of them. They also both seem to despise their older brother and want him badly out of their father’s life. At first glance, the tough talking Beth and the elegant Shiv are nothing alike. Beth’s whiskey swilling, chain smoking, in-your-face demeanor seems a far cry from Shiv Roy’s Sarah Lawrence upbringing in every way. That is until you consider Shiv is even worse to her older brother Kendall by penning an open letter about his drug abuse and mental state for the whole world to see. The Dutton family believes in keeping family business in the family, whereas the Roys have no such shame. Oddly, both actresses are redheads from other countries using fake American accents: Reilly is from England and Snook is from Australia.

Both shows have overly ambitious oldest male siblings who don’t have the goods to take over the family business evidenced by repeated failed attempts to do so.

Each son, Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy on Succession and Wes Bentley as Jamie Dutton on Yellowstone, is constantly emasculated by their father, brothers, and only sister. Their demands for respect often result in their loss of status, excommunication from the family, and literal tantrums on their part. Both characters are told at different points they lack the required killer instincts to lead because of what their fathers don’t see in their eyes. Both Strong as Kendall and Bentley as Jamie, have extremely expressive eyes that clearly hold so much pain and disappointment from their fathers. Oddly, both characters are also saddled with gender neutral/female sounding names by the show’s creators.

Both shows’ daughters are married to men who would do anything for the family’s patriarch.

Rip Wheeler, played with growling ferocity by Cole Hauser on Yellowstone, and Tom Wambsgans, played with sycophantic brilliance by Matthew Macfadyen on Succession, both bring new meaning to the word servitude. Each character would literally kill for their father-in-law to stay in his good favor. Each character has also covered up major federal crimes and even offered themselves for prison to protect their boss. Their blind loyalty and explosive anger aside, it’s curious neither man actually wears the pants in their marriages to the boss’s daughter. Each man is helpless to the whims of their more powerful wives. They also both work out this, and nearly every other frustration, on their favorite whipping boy.

Both shows feature a whipping boy who is often the target for the writers’ cruelest jokes.

The awkwardly shy cousin Greg, played by Nicholas Braun on Succession, and the awkwardly shy Jimmy, played by Jefferson White on Yellowstone, steal nearly every scene they appear in. Their characters are always the weakest person in the room and are usually being called stupid, threatened, or even worse at every turn. They are both barely noticed by the family patriarch but draw the ire of his son-in-law’s often violent outbursts. Both are called worthless and are constantly reminded how expendable they are. Both characters manage to survive as a small fish in a sea of sharks despite being so poorly equipped for the journey. Each actor is brilliant in their perspective role and never flinch in selling the joke, which is invariably on them in every scene.

Both shows families consist of three sons, one daughter, and a mother backstory full of deep secrets.

In Yellowstone’s pilot, John Dutton’s oldest son Lee, played by Dave Annable, dies fighting for his family in a shootout.

On Succession, the Roy family’s oldest boy isn’t dead, but hangs over the rest of the family the same way Lee does, as a ghost whose presence is usually upsetting. The Roy family’s oldest son Connor is played with brilliant indifference by Alan Ruck. Connor Roy is frustratingly powerless but must be heard nonetheless. Connor has no real power, nor does he seek real power, within the company, that is. Despite seeking no status further than his trust fund, Connor’s ambition is to be the leader of the free world. This usually provides the same uneasiness as the spirit of Lee Dutton does. Neither family can really be happy without having to deal with the elephant in the room. Audiences over forty will instantly know Ruck as Cameron, Ferris Bueller’s mopey sidekick from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, where younger viewers might know him as the annoying tourist stuck on the bus in Speed, with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. Ruck’s performance as Connor is well worth checking out as a mature amalgamation of both his most famous characters.

John Dutton is a widower who often pines for his dead wife Evelyn, played in flashbacks by Gretchen Mol. Her character’s spirit haunts the show, and in many ways her death has shaped the family’s dysfunction. Logan’s marital past also churns the Roy family ire. He’s been married at least three times and has numerous affairs. Logan’s first wife, Connor’s mother, is still somewhat of a mystery. We know something happened, as Connor references it often, but (as of this writing) we still don’t know what it is.

Both shows have an “enemies closer” philosophy to survival.

The Dutton family seems to have been fighting for the control of their land from robber barons and Native Americans since at least the nineteenth century. Throughout the run of the series the Duttons make many deals with the devil to survive. The Roy family is no better. With each new season we see the Roy empire under attack from all sides, including from within. In both cases each family makes blood oaths with their greatest enemies. Both families are survivors even if it means pushing the fight for another day. A great list of actors rotate through both of these shows, including Gil Birmingham, Mo Brings Plenty, Danny Huston, Jacki Weaver, Josh Holloway, Neal McDonough, Will Patton, Rob Yang, Eric Bogosian, Alexander Skarsgard, James Cromwell, Holly Hunter, Cherry Jones, and Adrien Brody. Each actor plays an obstacle in the way of what the family is trying to get done. In some cases, they smash through them, but in many others, they negotiate.

Both shows celebrate the majesty of the world each family controls.

Whether it is the sprawling vistas of Montana or the glistening skyscrapers of Manhattan, each show provides the most opulent images possible to illustrate what rarified air each family gets to walk in. The second units on both shows are vastly underpaid in this regard as they both routinely hit it out of the park with breathtaking cinematography.

A crossover would be amazing.

Unlike comic books where Spider-Man and Superman had a crossover, television rarely does this sort of thing, and even more rarely across rival networks (with the notable exception of Ally McBeal on Fox and The Practice on ABC, although both shows were produced by David E. Kelly). Sure, there are the usual ratings crossovers among shows that take place in the same universe like the Dick Wolf empire or in sitcoms in the same time block, but different universes, and different networks? Never happens.

But what if it did? Can you imagine a private room with Logan Roy and John Dutton making a blood oath while Shiv and Beth share a drink on the balcony laughing about how they slept with each other’s pathetic brother back in college? Meanwhile, their husbands Rip and Tom, both disgusted to be in the same room together, take out their anger on cousin Greg and Jimmy who inadvertently ruin something perceived to be vital.


Succession completed its third season and Yellowstone is in its fourth. Both shows boast some of the finest performances on TV. It’s easy to stream both of them on their perspective platforms, HBO Max and Peacock, and are well worth the binge.

 

Fred Shahadi is an award-winning filmmaker, playwright, and TV writer living in Los Angeles.
He is the author of the science fiction conspiracy novel
Shoot the Moon.

 

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