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What 'Succession' and 'Cocaine Bear' have in common (other than cocaine)

The title<em> Cocaine Bear</em> says it all, and the film delivers on that promise in 95 minutes.
Universal Pictures
The title Cocaine Bear says it all, and the film delivers on that promise in 95 minutes.

The news broke this week that the upcoming fourth season of Succession will be the last. This was a heartbreaker for me as a fan of the show, because not only have I loved watching it, but I have loved picking it apart, teasing out its every detail. On an emotional level, if they gave me 10 seasons, I would watch them all, even knowing that history counsels that they would be likely to flag in quality after a certain period of time. I would not care; I would stay with the Roys to the bitter end.

At the same time, I told more than one person this week that one of the very best things about the movie Cocaine Bear is that it's 95 minutes long. Long movies seem to be arriving faster and faster: Jurassic World Dominion is almost two-and-a-half hours long. The Batman is almost three hours long. Movies as different asAvatar: The Way of Water andBlonde are also stretching to three hours. The Marvel movies are well-known repeat offenders, obviously. Cocaine Bear, on the other hand, has one funny idea, and it knows it. A bear does cocaine! You do a few set pieces with some gory maulings, you get a few laughs out of the shock of somebody getting eaten, and then everybody goes home.

It's hard to know when a story is over, and I think most of us have guessed wrong before. I wasn't optimistic about continuing the Breaking Bad world with Better Call Saul, but that show was terrific. Big Little Lies might have been better off stopping after a single season. All kinds of considerations go into whether a story comes to an end beyond the demands of the story: how much do people still care, how much money remains to be made, how much money is being dangled, how hard is the cast to keep under contract, how attached are the people to working together, and even whether a new executive is trying to put their unique stamp on whatever the home of the story happens to be.

I think about The Good Place when I think about this problem. I loved those characters, I loved the actors, I loved the jokes — I loved the world the show inhabited. I would have watched more, without question. But I find it impossible to quarrel with the notion that it ended exactly as, and when, it should have. This is part of the larger imperative to allow creative people to make a thing you love and not expect it to go the way you want at every individual moment. The shape and size of the piece is best left in the hands of the people who made it, and you either like the result or you don't. Maybe it's longer than you wish, maybe shorter.

But with Succession, I have tended to disagree with people who feel like it stagnates. Instead, I've found it to be on a fairly clear track, once you realize that sometimes what is changing — what is "happening," in a plot sense — is happening under the surface, as with Kendall's seeming submissiveness in Season 2 that turned out to be more complicated than that. That story does seem, to me, to be reaching a cymbal crash. Moreover, they have dropped hints over and over about Logan's health. They eventually have to get around to the health crisis they have hinted at, and I don't see the show continuing past that point.

Succession and Cocaine Bear have cocaine in common, and eviscerations (figurative versus literal), but they have this in common, too: Tell your story and get out. Know when to pull the curtain. Know when the bear has had that last rampage.

This piece first appeared in NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter so you don't miss the next one, plus get weekly recommendations about what's making us happy.

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Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.