We can’t get enough of watching awful, ultrarich families on screen

After a terrible year, there is somehow still so much pleasure in spending time with some of the most entitled and narcissistic people ever written

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This year, we witnessed terrible behaviour by the terribly wealthy. And it’s not just from the tech billionaires, our politicians and the royal family. In TV dramas set aboard mega-yachts in the Mediterranean to luxury resorts in Hawaii, we can’t seem to get enough of megarich families who are all slightly different shades of awful.

Here are the best (of the worst).

THE ROY FAMILY, SUCCESSION

Pop your best champagne: HBO’s Succession is returning this October with its savage depiction of an aggressively unlikable media family. Headed by the grizzly mogul Logan Roy (Brian Cox), who faces his mortality, his four adult children scheme, sh*t talk and backstab as they attempt to inherit the empire. Nothing is redeeming about this over-privileged tribe, and yet, we can’t look away.

Kendall (Jeremy Strong) was once a strong contender for an heir, but after several failed coups against his father, drug binges and manslaughter, he is damaged goods. Roman (Kieran Culkin) is damaged in his own way, embodying a slimy, squalid sort of entitlement. Siobhan (Australia’s Sarah Snook), a calculating political strategist, throws her brother under the bus to protect her marriage. Conner (Alan Ruck), the eldest man-baby of the bunch, takes on Trumpian hubris and runs for president.

Occupying the space between comedy and drama and horror, the Roys derive glee from wielding their privilege over the less fortunate.

“Oink for your sausages, piggies!” bellows Logan, forcing some of his polished executives to scuttle on the floor during a disturbing game he created, called ‘Boar on the floor’. “It’s fun!” he shouts unconvincingly.

But the Roys take even more pleasure in inflicting maximum pain on each other, and their ammunition is often smutty, hurtful one-liners delivered like poetry.

In season two, Roman compares his older brother to “a f***ing neutered hound dog,” “a cadaver,” and “a sex robot for dad to f**K.” Tom, Shiv’s husband, not wanting to miss out on the fun, adds: “He looks waxy, like an unshaven candle.”

With all the money in the world, the Roys and their hangers-on live as though they are outside the rules and never have to answer for their sins. Of course, the great comedy of Succession – and tragedy – they are painfully correct.

THE MOSSBACHER FAMILY, WHITE LOTUS

This year’s hit social satire, HBO’s White Lotus, features a gaggle of affluent holidaymakers at an exclusive Hawaiian resort who manage to turn paradise into a living hell, for themselves and for the downtrodden staff who serve them.

The hotel’s ferociously tense manager Armond (played by Australian actor Murray Bartlett) explains staff must embody pleasant blandness, as though they barely exist beyond their role in serving their guests. Through a fake smile, he explains every single guest wants to feel like they are “the special chosen baby child of the hotel”.

Among his adult-baby guests are Sheryl Sandberg-esque CFO Nicole (Connie Britton) and her pathetic husband Mark (Steve Zahn) and their entitled offspring: aimless teen son Quinn (Fred Hechinger), and sneering cool-girl daughter Olivia (Sydney Sweeney). Olivia brings along her equally sour bestie, Paula (Brittany O’Grady).

In the fourth episode, Nicole asks daughter Olivia, who is fluent in the language of cruelty and wokeness, to be kinder to her brother.

“I don’t think you appreciate how tough things are for kids like Quinn right now,” she explains, rubbing sunscreen on her golden-tanned arms. “He is a straight, white, young man, and nobody has any sympathy for them right now.”

Olivia merely raises an eyebrow; there could be nothing scarier from this teenager.

Such is the sharp brilliance of Mike White’s writing, perfectly capturing the self-delusion and defensiveness of the rich, blissfully blinded by their privilege to know their effect on those beneath their social standing.

Apart from murder, nothing much happens, and that’s kind of the point. A relentless drumming soundtrack keeps the petty drama at a cracking pace, a constant reminder of the tribes at play.

“We all do the same sh*t,” says Quinn, the most self-aware of the bunch. “We’re all still parasites on the Earth. There’s no virtuous person when we’re all eating the last fish and throwing all our plastic crap in the ocean.”

HBO has renewed the series for a second season. With new characters and a new location, it will likely feature another picture-perfect setting tarnished by the terribly wealthy, awfully self-centred tribe. Bring on the savagery.

THE FRASER FAMILY, THE UNDOING

The Undoing is HBO’s intriguing murder/ mystery about wealthy white people on the Upper East Side in New York City. Created by David E. Kelley, also behind the similar book adaption Big Little Lies: Manhattan, the murder plays a secondary role against the backdrop of impressive architecture and a lust-worthy wardrobe.

Nicole Kidman plays Grace Fraser, a therapist; her husband, Jonathan, is a children’s oncologist, played by an endlessly charming Hugh Grant. They send their neat and polite son, Henry (Noah Jupe), to a snooty school thanks to donations provided by Grace’s wealthy dad (Donald Sutherland). In short: They are educated, beautiful, well spoken and seemingly happy in their life of luxury.

But beneath the gleaming facade of all that marble lurks ugly inner lives and the dark underbelly of privilege. It’s a world filled with fundraisers and virtue signalling, but only when those less fortunate are kept at an arm’s distance.

Oh, and there’s the gruesome murder.

When single mum Elena Alves (played by the Italian actress Matilda De Angelis) joins the mother’s club, she’s met with coolness and sniggers behind her back. But then she’s discovered bludgeoned to death, and the focus turns to Jonathan, that lovely, crinkly-eyed doctor. Could he be a killer?

Unsurprisingly, the family lawyer up and pays $12 million to secure bail.

“It is white privilege!” a black news commentator cries. “Do you think if he was [a] black man, he would have been granted bail? This was a vicious murder, the woman’s head was nearly liquified, and he’s not a threat to society? It’s obscene!”

There is nothing subtle about The Undoing, but that’s what makes this psychological thriller such a pleasure. Like all whodunnits, there are plenty of red herrings and twists and turns along the way. As the show gleefully skewers highly-strung, upper-class white women, it also reminds us that some people are bad, and you can’t always tell who. Released at the end of last year, it’s worth a watch if you haven’t got round to it.

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