Succession is one of the most popular TV dramas of the past decade or so, and arguably the most popular drama currently on the air. It’s pulled in millions of devoted viewers who are invested in the show and its characters, despite the general consensus being that most of the characters in the show are fairly terrible people. They’re rich, entitled, and selfish, and yet despite (or maybe because of) those things, their inter-family drama remains compelling for so many.
Succession is far from the first show to feature a cast of heavily flawed characters, even if it does take the concept to dizzying new heights in many ways. For any fans of shows populated with characters who are heavily flawed at best, and genuinely horrible at worst, there are plenty of shows to scratch that terrible character itch that you may have after finishing Succession’s most recent season.
Updated March 25th, 2023, by Jeremy Urquhart
Succession is concluding its four-season run in 2023, with the fourth and final season airing on March 26. With its ten final episodes, it’s sure to make for an explosive and engaging end to the acclaimed HBO drama/comedy series, and means it’s as good a time as any to look at other shows like Succession that mine drama and conflict through casts that are almost entirely filled with morally questionable characters.
11 ‘Succession’ (2018 – 2023)
When Succession begins, it looks set to be a fairly simple modern adaptation of King Lear. There’s an aging patriarch who is thinking about stepping down from running his (media) kingdom, and as such, the idea of who’s to be his predecessor becomes a prominent one. The powerful and seemingly always angry Logan Roy (played by Brian Cox) has four children, and each has their own reasons for wanting to get on their father’s good side, and possibly take over.
Things get more complicated after the first season or so, as Logan’s health recovers, and there’s then a question of whether he’s even going to step down, or whether he’ll continue running his business until his dying days. It mines a great deal of comedy, drama, and tension from its inter-family conflicts, and has captivated viewers and critics alike with its sharp writing and pitch-perfect acting.
Watch on HBO Max
10 ‘The White Lotus’ (2021 – )
Another recent HBO show that may scratch a similar comedy/drama itch to Succession is The White Lotus, an anthology series that aired its first season in 2021, and its second in 2022. Each season centers on a different hotel that’s part of the same global chain, and so far, there’s only been one character who’s had a prominent role in both seasons (played by Jennifer Coolidge).
It’s a series that’s unafraid to explore some dark and uncomfortable plotlines, and proves compelling because of how dysfunctional and flawed its characters generally are. At least the short nature of all the standalone seasons means that if some characters are particularly irksome for certain viewers, they’re unlikely to return to their screens in any potential future season.
Watch on HBO Max
9 ‘The Sopranos’ (1999 – 2007)
Arguably one of the first big shows to fill its cast with fascinating and flawed people, The Sopranos was groundbreaking when it came to what could be shown on a TV show, and what its main characters could effectively get away with doing. The show follows mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) as he balances his family with his criminal lifestyle, with the show refusing to shy away from the damage he causes to the world around him and to the people he’s close to.
It may not feel as radical now, but to have the main character of a TV show murder someone in cold blood on screen was a huge deal back in 1999, as Tony commits his first on-screen murder in the fifth episode of the show’s first season. It’s the first of many bad things the character does (and many supporting characters do a lot worse!), but the show always ensures its characters feel human, and even though most are not good people, most have at least a quality or two that elicits some sympathy.
Watch on HBO Max
8 ‘Arrested Development’ (2003 – 2019)
Arrested Development is a comedic example of a show about (mostly) terrible people. Like Succession, it does focus on a wealthy, spoiled family, though much of the humor comes from how they’re thrust into difficult situations and more everyday problems that they can’t comprehend, while their empire crumbles.
Interestingly, the show’s main character, Michel Bluth (Jason Bateman), did start as the only “sane man” in the family, so to speak, and wasn’t outwardly terrible, but had many of his personal values worn down as the seasons went on. The same could be said for his son, George Michael (Michael Cera), who became less naive and idealistic as the show went on and he got older. But regardless, the characters are all so entertaining (and face enough misfortune) that they’re never truly frustrating to watch, even if they’re largely far from nice people.
Watch on Hulu
7 ‘Seinfeld’ (1989 – 1998)
Seinfeld really isn’t a show about nothing. It’s about the tiny, annoying things in life, really, and how many small problems can add up, compound, and cause misery. But it’s also about how not to deal with those problems, and that’s a lesson that its four main characters – who are all capable of doing some awful things – never seem to learn.
As a result of not learning, their hilarious misadventures continued for almost an entire decade. It all ended with a controversial but fitting finale where they were finally held accountable for their dozens – maybe even hundreds – of misdeeds committed throughout the show in a court of law. Just because many of the problems the characters faced were minor didn’t mean the show was “about nothing”; it was just about little things. And if you take inspiration from George Costanza (Jason Alexander) in Season 5’s finale and approach life in the opposite way to the iconic main cast of Seinfeld, you should find those problems being nowhere near as difficult.
Watch on Netflix
6 ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ (2005 – )
In a nutshell, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia takes what makes Seinfeld compelling and turns it up to 11. At the risk of simplifying it, the main characters are similarly awful – maybe even more so – and through their selfish, petty, or even criminal deeds, often receive some sort of karmic comeuppance for just generally being bad people.
But that’s part of the reason why it’s fun. It often rides the line between feeling grounded and cartoonish, meaning that the show’s occasionally extreme humor shouldn’t offend too much, and the fact that the show makes it clear we should be laughing at the characters and their stupidity or ignorance means it doesn’t feel tasteless. Still, the characters themselves; as people? You definitely wouldn’t want to know them in real life.
Watch on Hulu
5 ‘Veep’ (2012 – 2019)
Veep saw Julia Louis-Dreyfus once again playing a lead character in a comedy about very unlikeable people, approximately a decade and a half on from Seinfeld’s conclusion. Given she plays a Vice President who aspirations to one day be the President of the United States, the stakes are inevitably more high-stakes, even if the series is a comedic one.
Vice President Meyer is far from the only bad person in the cast, given that the staff members in her team are largely incompetent at best, and malicious and backstabbing at worst. It’s in stark contrast to another politically-themed show like The West Wing, which is notable for being particularly idealistic and featuring a cast made up of people who seem to want to change the U.S. for the better.
Watch on HBO Max
4 ‘The Shield’ (2002 – 2008)
Beginning with a fantastic pilot and concluding with a devastating and Shakespearean finale, The Shield is a top-notch crime/thriller show. It aired for seven seasons between 2002 and 2008, and centered on Vic Mackey, a police officer who plays by his own rules and frequently bends the law with his similarly corrupt and hard-nosed squad mates.
Many of the main characters are shady and morally bankrupt, and arguably no better than some of the criminals they were supposed to be taking down. It’s a show that’s critical of the overall institution that lets people like Mackey get away with a huge deal of wrongdoing, with the tension and drama coming from some of his most irredeemable actions ultimately leading to some very compelling TV.
Watch on Hulu
3 ‘Breaking Bad’ (2008 – 2013)
Breaking Bad puts Walter White (Bryan Cranston) – a seemingly normal father, with a fairly normal family – in an extreme situation: he just got diagnosed with terminal cancer. He’s sympathetic in how he can’t afford his expensive cancer treatment, and he fears for his family’s well-being if he were to pass away. So he hatches a plan to cook and sell meth to fund both avenues.
It’s how far he takes this business that shows Walt’s true colors, and while he’s sympathetic in the earlier seasons, his greed and hubris overwhelm him to the point where he becomes villainous. He clashes against other characters who are even more brutal and evil than him (though they’re villains that are compelling in their own right), and as all the other various characters are developed, their flaws become apparent, too. By the end of the show, almost everyone has done something terrible, but it’s a testament to the writing, acting, and filmmaking skills of Breaking Bad’s cast and crew that that still doesn’t make the tragedy of the show’s infamous third-last episode feel any less devastating.
Watch on Netflix
2 ‘Oz’ (1997 – 2003)
Oz is a tough and brutal show populated with dozens of characters who are often menacing, tortured, violent, or all of the above. It’s set in a fictional high-security prison that houses many of America’s most dangerous prisoners, and even worse, many of the guards and authority figures are hardly saints themselves.
With a violent setting and 90% of the characters being prone to violence, it’s the kind of show where even the decent characters need to put up a front, or else they’ll suffer within the prison’s walls. The relentless danger and death ensure it might not be a show for everyone, but the characters are as fascinating as they are terrifying, and it’s the kind of TV show that really sticks with you, for better or worse.
Watch on HBO Max
1 ‘Mad Men’ (2007 – 2015)
Mad Men is an interesting example of a show with many flawed characters. Few characters are outright irredeemably awful, and even fewer ever do anything violent (compared to many well-regarded modern crime shows, for example), but almost everyone in the show has some kind of inner demon or demons they’re grappling with, and no one is free of flaws.
It makes for great (and very grown-up) drama, and the fact the characters have realistic, less extreme personality flaws makes the show as a whole feel very believable. It kept viewers engaged for eight years – all the way up until its strong and satisfying finale – for a variety of reasons of course, but its excellent cast of flawed and very real characters was certainly one of the main ones.
Watch on AMC+
NEXT:Top ‘Succession’ Episodes To Watch Over and Over