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'Succession's' highly anticipated 3rd season is finally here, and it's great TV

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

As the television industry recovers from the pandemic, some programs are heading back to set. And after two years, HBO's drama "Succession" will, on Sunday, air new episodes of the show. It's centered on a father who controls a giant entertainment and media company and his dysfunctional relations with his four children. Here's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: To understand why "Succession" fans have been highly anticipating the show's return for so long, consider this cliffhanger scene from the program's previous season. Here, son Kendall Roy refuses to take the blame for a company scandal at a press conference and instead blames his father, Logan Roy.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SUCCESSION")

JEREMY STRONG: (As Kendall Roy) The truth is that my father is a malignant presence, a bully and a liar. And he was fully, personally aware of these events for many years and made efforts to hide and cover up.

DEGGANS: "Succession's" pandemic-delayed third season kicks off moments after Kendall has given that speech, and battle lines in the family form quickly. Logan calls his son Kendall, demanding he retract his statement. When Kendall, who has an assistant talk to him on the phone, suggests he resign instead, Logan provides a ferocious answer.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SUCCESSION")

BRIAN COX: (As Logan Roy) And I'm going to grind his bones to make my bread.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) He says, in that case, he's going to grind up your bones to make his bread.

STRONG: (As Kendall) Tell him that I'm going to run up off the beanstalk.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) He's kind of laughing but not, like, nice laughing.

DEGGANS: "Succession" may have won an Emmy last year as best drama, but it's really a deftly written dark comedy which slips jokes into unexpected places. One reason this works is the casting. Scottish acting legend Brian Cox is note perfect as Logan Roy, a hard-charging patriarch who only seems to have a kind word for his children when he needs something from them, like in this moment when he's calling oldest son Connor, played by Alan Ruck, to smooth over a past argument and keep his allegiance.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SUCCESSION")

COX: (As Logan) Those words were maybe harsh words on that tin can, on the boat, you know?

ALAN RUCK: (As Connor Roy) Uh-huh.

COX: (As Logan) No harm done?

RUCK: (As Connor) You were pretty rude, Pop.

COX: (As Logan) It's good to know that I can rely on you. You're No. 1, kiddo. You know that.

DEGGANS: Even in this situation, Logan can't bring himself to actually apologize. "Succession's" third season is filled with telling moments like this, as the show digs into characters both fans and the actors have come to know pretty well. The first two episodes unfold slowly, as Logan and Kendall try to win over family members and top executives. The enduring irony of "Succession" is that Logan has surrounded himself with family members and sycophants who won't challenge him, which means when an actual crisis hits, they're often pretty useless. Jeremy Strong, who won an Emmy last year playing Kendall Roy, gives another world-class performance here. In this scene, Kendall is pitching his siblings on removing Logan from the company. He's also using bravado and high-minded talk to convince them - and maybe himself - that he isn't just a bratty kid seeking revenge on Daddy.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SUCCESSION")

STRONG: (As Kendall) Information is going to be more precious than water in the next hundred. Amazon is 20 years old. Gates is an old geezer. Detoxify our brand, and we can go supersonic. So what do you say?

KIERAN CULKIN: (As Roman Roy) You know, there's just something about betraying our father that just doesn't sit well with me.

DEGGANS: I loved moments in the second season when some of the siblings actually achieved things, and there's a little less of that here. But, ultimately, "Succession's" third season makes amazing television out of the machinations of a family which seems like it would be at each other's throats if they ran a corner grocery store or the largest company on the planet. And that's pretty awesome entertainment.

I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF NICHOLAS BRITELL'S "SUCCESSION (MAIN TITLE THEME)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.