The Art of Discomfort: Cinematography and Visual Design in Succession and The White Lotus

Two of the most popular TV series in 2021 were Succession (HBO, 2018-) and The White Lotus (HBO, 2021-), and both have been lauded for their dubious characters, witty dialogues and clever combination of humor, tragedy and melodrama. Both series could be described as modern chamber plays. But despite their focus on performances and dialogue, they are also interesting when it comes to cinematography and visual design, and they represent different approaches to style and camerawork, giving different portrayals of the the upper class and producing a sense of discomfort in each their own way.

Since the advent of streaming, the TV landscape has been characterized by fierce competition and a sheer abundance of productions. Some critics have described this era as a “golden age” while others, including seasoned executives and showrunners like John Landgraf and Daniel Knauf, have pointed to elements of fatigue and mediocrity in today’s media landscape, as caused by a seemingly endless demand for content (cf. Halskov 2021a: 70-72). Following Landgraf and Knauf, some TV critics have described 2021 as a somewhat underwhelming year. As Vulture’s Kathryn VanArendonk puts it: “There were exquisite seasons of television and there were crummy ones, but the vast yawning middle of ‘just fine’ grows larger each year.” (cf. Chaney et al. 2021a and Filmredaktionen 2021).         

Two outliers in this context are Succession and The White Lotus, both of which are included in best-of lists by notable magazines and newspapers such as Indiewire, Vulture and The New York Times (cf. Travers 2021, Chaney et al. 2021 and Poniewozik et al. 2021). Deservedly, those two series have both been lauded for their scripts, their wonderfully obnoxious characters and their satirical depictions of white privilege. This article, however, delves into an often forgotten or underappreciated aspect of the two series: cinematography and visual design.

From Chamber Plays to Prestige Television

Succession and The White Lotus are made by different creators, Jesse Armstrong and Mike White, yet they have several interesting similarities. Both shows combine drama and comedy while depicting the American upper class and satirizing white privilege. Both are evident examples of modern prestige television, serving as notable flagships for HBO, and both revolve around a relatively small group of characters in a limited set of locations (mainly a luxurious office building in New York and a high-end hotel in Hawaii). Both could be described as prestigious chamber plays from the multiplatform era, focusing on performance and dialogue rather than audacious camera movements and cinematic extravaganza. A lot has been written about Succession and The White Lotus, but only a few articles have mentioned their use of cinematography (cf. Hellerman 2019, Dager 2021 and Eastman Kodak Company 2018).

Nevertheless, I will argue that their respective approaches to cinematography and visual style are an important aspect of the two series, illustrating different visual strategies and sources of inspiration when trying to depict and debunk the top 1 percent. They might look different, and you might be too immersed in the drama and tour de force-performances to even notice the style, despite the conspicuous use of handheld camera and editing in Succession and the equally conspicuous use of color and lighting in The White Lotus. But when looking at the two shows in conjunction, you can see how different choices in terms cinematography and visual design can produce different experiences and depictions of upper-class people while exploring similar themes and having comparable brands in terms of genre and production company.

Festen meets Dallas

Upon its release in 2018, Succession was immediately praised for its darkly satirical story and its snappy, overlapping dialogue. Apart from its outrageous characters and witty script, echoing the works of Aaron Sorkin and the earlier shows of creator Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show, Channel 4, 2003-2015), Succession was also hailed for its Shakespearean undertones and its clever allusions to plays like Macbeth and King Lear and historical figures like Nero and Sporus (fig. 1).

Though often overlooked, a few writers also commented on its unusual approach to cinematography and editing, and Jason Hellerman of No Film School described Succession as “one of the best [shows] on TV”, arguing that it would “change how we shoot and edit” (Hellerman 2019). Referencing Hellerman’s article, writer-director Paul Schrader wrote a critical update on Facebook, sharply debunking Hellerman’s point while arguing that Succession had inherited its audiovisual aesthetic from Thomas Vinterberg and Dogme95.

Albeit humoristic in tone, Succession is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, revolving around a rich, white family that owns a scandalous media conglomerate called Waystar RoyCo, reminiscent of Rupert Murdoch and his well-known News Corporation.

The basic story about the Roys and the battle to succeed the ageing white patriarch, Logan Roy (Brian Cox), is similar to King Lear. But the story and the visual style were also, as Schrader implied, inspired by Thomas Vinterberg, and the creators of Succession, in fact, screened Vinterberg’s Festen (1998, The Celebration) as inspiration before shooting the first season of their popular show (fig. 2-3). When confronted with Schrader’s comment, Jesse Armstrong simply replied:

My comic pitch of the show, when I took it to HBO, was that it would be “Festen meets Dallas,” so some of that Dogme sensibility appealed to me, and we watched Festen again when we were preparing to shoot the pilot. But Andrij Parekh and Adam McKay, and subsequently Mark Mylod, have evolved a look for the show that nods towards the effects of the restrictions of Dogme – that documentary sense of real life captured – but also allows them to do basically whatever the hell they want stylistically in any given scene.

(Halskov 2020a)

Beyond the Veneer

The inspiration from Festen and Dogme95 in Armstrong’s show is hardly hidden or incidental, and it is visible from the very first episode, whose title (“Celebration”) even evokes Vinterberg’s film. The episode begins to the sound of snoring, as a restless camera tries to capture the central character, Logan Roy, who gets out of bed in almost total darkness. “Where am I?”, he stutters as he gets up and moves towards the door. Logan repeats his question, as we cut conspicuously from a medium shot of his left shoulder to a tight shot of his right side. As Logan walks into the dark hallway, the camera follows him nervously in some tight low-angle shots around his waist and his bare feet, cuing the audience into thinking that we are witnessing an old man with a fragile memory or a failing health.                               

TV buffs might naturally think of Alan Ball’s classic Six Feet Under (HBO, 2001-2005), expecting the old patriarch to die in the very first sequence of Armstrong’s show, whereas film connoisseurs might think of Vinterberg’s Festen, in which the handheld camera captured the metaphorical fall of the patriarch (Helge played by Henning Moritzen) during his 60th birthday (fig. 4).

In Vinterberg’s film, the shaky camera, elliptical cutting and extreme visual mismatches gave the audience a sense of being present at Helge’s infamous birthday party, during which his oldest son, Christian (Ulrich Thomsen), revealed some unsettling news about his father. The style in Vinterberg’s film, which was shot on DV camera and transferred to Academy 35mm, created a documentary-like experience, as if the viewers were witnessing a disturbing home video from a deeply dysfunctional family (cf. Schepelern 2003: 61-101). In Succession, the handheld camera is reminiscent of Dogme95, but it serves a slightly different function, reminding the viewers of the chaos and fragility behind the almost impeccable veneer of the Roys and the top 0.01 percent. As much as the Roys try to manage their image, the handheld camera, from the very first sequence of the show, hints at a loss of control and a potential shattering of the corporate image. Though different from Vinterberg’s film in terms of technology (Succession was shot on Kodak 35mm film “with underexposure to soften the contrast”), Armstrong’s show is reminiscent of Festen when it comes to visual style, tonality and plot (Lightiron 2021). Vinterberg’s film is about the demasking of an abusive father, who tries to play his children off against each other, and it depicts the shifting sympathies and power relations of the adult children and the gradual unravelling of the family. Those aspects resonate, quite evidently, with the action in Succession where the adult children, Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin), are pitted against each other and their close relatives (e.g., Cousin Greg and Shiv’s husband Tom) by their manipulative and abusive father. Even the theme of molestation echoes Vinterberg’s film, as reflected in the character (Moe)Lester McClintock and his dubious peers. In both cases, the abuse of the past comes back to haunt the family members as dark and dirty secrets or a deep-seated sense of guilt and self-loathing.                                                                                                                               

The opening scene from Succession ends with a series of tight handheld shots, following Logan down the dark hallway, and on the soundtrack we hear his heartbeat gradually increasing in volume, as he is trying to catch his breath. After one minute, an off-screen voice says his name, before the light is turned on and we see him urinating in the hallway. Logan is escorted out of the frame by an unknown, darkhaired woman (Marcia Roy played by Hiam Abbass), and the lack of focus illustrates Logan’s state of mind before we cut, rather abruptly, to a short, handheld montage of New York traffic and a young man with headphones listening and singing along to some intense rap music from the backseat of a fancy car (Fig. 5). Though not the oldest son in a concrete biological sense, the young man, Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong), indeed, sees himself as the natural successor to Logan’s throne, and the handheld camera and conspicuous editing style mirror his restless energy and his inability to find himself and a sense of inner peace. As cinematographer Patrick Capone puts it:

We wanted the characters to enter into uncontrollable situations. They can control a lot of things in life, but they can’t control what everybody has to deal with: the weather, their health and things like that. There are things that even money can’t control. There are many scenes that others would go to cover and shoot inside, but we say: “Fuck them. They are billionaires, and they have to walk in the rain like the rest of us.” We do a lot of location stuff. Even the car scenes are shot realistically. The cars are driving with a camera operator. We don’t do towing shots or put the car on a flatbed and drive it around Manhattan. We try to keep it as realistic as we can. We are having this discussion constantly at work: “Are we making it ‘too cinema’, or is this the reality of where we are?”.

(Halskov 2020b)

“What image tells the story?”

Capone likens the visual aesthetic in Succession to Annie Leibovitz and her famous photojournalism, arguing that the spontaneous shooting style allows the actors to improvise and find the significant moment that punctuates the scene (what Capone calls the “visual exclamation mark”) in an organic way, instead of thinking about their position in relation to the camera. There are many examples of “visual exclamation marks” in Succession – for example the beautiful wide shot of Logan’s estranged brother at the ending of “I Went to Market (Ep. 1:5) and the aesthetic singles of Kendall outside in the sun at the end of “Austerlitz” (Ep. 1:7). An even more breathtaking example is found in the final sequence of “Safe Room” (Ep. 2:4), and this “visual exclamation mark” was born from a sort of creative, improvisational interplay between the actor (Jeremy Strong) and the cinematographer (Patrick Capone). A pivotal moment in the second season, the ending of “Safe Room” depicts a troubled Kendall who walks towards a glass window and presses his head against the glass, effectively punctuating the episode with a stunning mirror motif (fig. 6). As Capone says:

We don’t plan it, and Jeremy doesn’t like to rehearse, so we just said: “Jeremy, you do what you want to do. We’ll just follow you.” We followed him, and he slowly walked closer and closer to the glass, and my operator just got tighter and tighter with him and found that final frame. We didn’t know that he was going to put his head against the glass. That’s the documentation, that’s the photojournalism. As if we were still photographers in a war zone thinking: “What image tells the story?” It was so organic. We said “cut”, and we all thought: “Where the hell did that come from?”

It’s a different style of shooting and editing. Succession is not the first production that has done it, though. I think you can reference some of Adam McKay’s earlier films, for example The Big Short, and Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married. When I talk with people about Succession, I describe it as a photojournalistic way of telling stories. The operators have complete freedom to follow the story, as they hear and see it. We do not do traditional masters, over-the-shoulder single coverage. We try to be a fly on the wall and document this beautiful performance that this ensemble is doing.

(Halskov 2020b)

The third season of Succession abounds with similarly stunning shots that act as “visual exclamation marks” while illustrating the gradual fragmentation of the family and its different members and hinting at new conflicts and controversy in the family dynasty. Think about the final shot of the penultimate episode (Ep. 3:8: “Chiantishire”), for example, where Kendall is seen floating ominously in the water (Fig. 7-8). Not to mention the pivotal scene from the final episode (Ep. 3:9: “All the Bells Say”), in which Kendall’s psychological dissolution – “I’m blown into a million pieces” – is illustrated by an uneasy camera and an Antonioni-like mise en scène of sandy earth colors and old ruins (fig. 9-10). From Kendall’s breakdown to Roman’s awkward attempt at comforting his brother and appeasing his guilt and Shiv’s total inability to connect and empathize, the scene is a poignant illustration of their personal and relational tragedies. Not just because of the wonderful acting, but also because of the poetic cinematography by Patrick Capone.

Capone has been the most recurring and prolific director of photography (DP) on Succession, but the conceptualizing cinematographer was Andrij Parekh, who worked as DP on the first three episodes apart from directing four episodes (Ep. 1:6, 2:2, 2:3, 3:6). He describes the visual style of Succession in the following way:

We didn’t want to do filmed theater. We weren’t going to do traditional coverage. The camera would be constantly moving, roaming, almost like a character in itself. Jesse Armstrong has made a new King Lear, combining the best of Shakespeare with the best of Chekhov, and what we did camera-wise was to almost do a sort of provisional in-camera editing, cameras panning a lot, picking up moments. I began as a cinematographer on the series and then became a director, and what I said to the operator was: “Imagine that this is the only camera angle of the entire scene and try to capture everything that you can in the scene with one shot.” We never felt beholden to the dialogue and to make sure that everyone, who was speaking, was on camera, and I think that kind of looseness became the style of the show.

(Halskov 2020c)

“Madonna Inn meets Four Seasons”

The cable revolution of the early 2000s was characterized by a number of morally ambiguous characters – from Tony Soprano and Don Draper to Dexter and Walter White – and this “antihero genre” that David Chase had popularized with The Sopranos (HBO, 1999-2007) gradually became less hip. Many critics began writing about the death or disappearance of the “male antihero” (cf. Stewart 2018 and McInnes 2019), and new shows like Ted Lasso (Apple TV+, 2020-) were said to mark the beginning of a new era characterized by wholesome characters, “anti-antiheroes” and a general celebration of kindness (cf. Coates 2021). Such sweeping statements rarely hold up to closer scrutiny, and, in fact, there are many popular and renowned TV series these days that focus on dubious and depraved characters – from satires like Succession to docufictional series about narcissists and sociopaths in a world of hollowness and exploitation (cf. Exit, NRK, 2019-).                             

One of the most popular examples of this trend is The White Lotus, a dramedy that combines elements of a locked room mystery with a poignant satire on white privilege and a nuanced look at different generations. Whereas Succession takes place in New York – without using the location as an attraction in itself, as we see in Sex and the City (HBO, 1998-2004) and Billions (Showtime, 2016-) – The White Lotus takes place at a fictional hotel in Hawaii. Succession and The White Lotus are indelibly linked to their environments, but both series use the location as more than a beautiful backdrop, and they have deliberately sought to avoid “postcard aesthetics” or “landscape porn” (as the respective cinematographers put it). Succession was pitched as “Festen meets Dallas”, and the idea for The White Lotus was condensed by Mike White into a similar one-liner during an early conversation with production designer Laura Fox. As Fox recalls:

I was interviewing for the job. I had never met Mike White, but I was a big fan. I love some of his movies, for example Beatriz at Dinner. We had a very weird Zoom meeting, and some of the names of the different hotel rooms were already in the script. We came to talking about the rooms and the idea behind the show, and he said: “What if Madonna Inn had a baby with a Four Seasons?” I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Madonna Inn, but it is a super famous hotel in Northern California, which is the tackiest, greatest place ever. Anyway, we started talking about our dogs, and I thought I wouldn’t get the job. But then the phone rang, and one of his producers told me that Mike loved our conversation and that I got the job.                               

That little morsel built the whole show. It all developed from that one conversation, because then, when I got to Hawaii, I had to go into quarantine in my room, so I had to work on the design in my hotel room, and it all came out of those eight or nine days in quarantine. It all started with a fabric and a room. At one point Mike asked me: “Do we just leave the rooms the way they are?” And I said: “No, we cannot. It’s not cinematic, not even in an ‘ugly beautiful’ way.” But once the basic color palette was there, we started finding out who was cast in the show, and the second we got Jennifer Coolidge, that was just an inspiration to push her room further and further in terms of color palette – the pinks and the reds – and in terms of the books and the weird stuff that was around. Jennifer is such a great actress, and she always plays so over the top. Even when she’s toned down, it’s still over the top, so raw. She really blew my mind on this show.

(Halskov 2021b)

Armstrong’s pitch for Succession gave the crew a clear idea of the genre – a combination of serial melodrama and tragedy with a hint of raw and edgy humor – but it also gave the cinematographers some basic visual parameters. Similarly, Mike White’s one-liner, “Madonna Inn meets Four Seasons”, gave production designer Laura Fox, costume designer Alex Bovaird and cinematographer Ben Kutchins a general idea of the tone and sensibility in The White Lotus and a clear reference point in terms of color palette and visual aesthetic (fig. 12). The short one-liner spurred many ideas in Laura Fox’s head, and she had a yard of twenty different fabrics shipped to her hotel room where she worked on the look of the show, painting pineapples on lamps, checking different fabrics and finding various artworks that would suit the series without drawing too much attention to themselves. As she says:

By the time I got out of quarantine, I had the heart of all the rooms. Afterwards, it was just about finding things in Hawaii that kept building the story. In the Pineapple Suite, for example, there is this weird public domain triptych about workers in the pineapple fields. It’s a little subliminal, but it’s there.

(Halskov 2021b)

Heightened Realism

With Madonna Inn as a visual reference point, Ben Kutchins also had a general idea in terms of color scheme, and he aimed for a stylized yet almost overwhelming use of warm colors and tight framing. This aesthetic is evident from the very first scene where the young newlywed, Shane (Jake Lacy), is seen at the airport waiting to get back from a disastrous honeymoon. In this scene, an old, well-meaning couple begin asking Shane questions about his trip to Hawaii and his stay at the titular White Lotus Hotel. The scene begins with a wide shot of Shane, seated in the middle of the frame with an empty or discouraged look on his face. The warm filter gives the scene a stylish look, mirroring the orange and teal-aesthetic that we see in many popular productions (cf. Højer 2015) while, at the same time, illustrating Shane’s growing sense of stress and discomfort by being almost too intense. The feeling of discomfort is gradually intensified, and when the camera begins zooming in on Shane – ending on a tight close-up of his face – it begins resembling a pressure cooker. From that point, the scene develops into a seemingly traditional dialogue, but the different shots and countershots are framed as tight two-shots and singles, making it feel more like an interrogation between an annoyingly chatty couple – “Are you headed home? Which hotel were you at?” – and a visibly uninterested man (fig. 13-14).

The White Lotus is not overly experimental, and even as it may seem stylized, it is hardly conspicuous to the point of distracting the viewer or breaking the illusion. Nevertheless, the use of filters and framing were meant to create an element of uncomfortability and defamiliarization, and Kutchins was very conscious of the aesthetic choices and their potential effect on the viewer.

There wasn’t a lot of conversation with Mike White about a specific color palette or exactly how we were going to shoot the show. It was important for us to make it seem grounded and real and then to bring in a layer of stylization on top of that. The most important thing was that it felt like we were in the real world, and then we would heighten the realism.

When I set out to create the look for The White Lotus, I was thinking about how to make the audience uncomfortable and how to create an atmosphere where you’re trapped with these people – where you get into their heads and are forced into their melodrama. The best way to do that is to draw the audience in. You have to lull them into a false sense of security. And that was an interesting challenge: to take an environment like Hawaii and turn it on its head a little bit and keep it as something that is beautiful, warm and inviting while drawing you in to the darkness of all of our souls.

I was using the warmth and pushing it so far in an effort to make the audience uncomfortable. It’s pushed to the point where it’s a character of its own in the story, hoping to give you a seat at the table next to these characters and using the proximity of the camera and the distinct color palette to really bring you in to this alternate universe. Rather than having it look like something from your everyday, I wanted it to feel like a memory, a dream or something that’s on the verge of reality and your memory of the situation.

(Halskov 2021c)

Ben Kutchins mentions “proximity” as a very important aspect for him, and, at times, the tight framing and voyeuristic camera produces an almost uncomfortable experience on the part of the viewer – as in the final scene of the first episode where the camera pushes in on Shane and his fiancé Rachel (Alexandra Daddario) while they are making love. The young newlyweds are seen through the window, and the leering camera gives the audience a feeling of being too close for comfort.                

Andrij Parakh and Patrick Capone talked about their visual style in Succession as a form of “photojournalism”, and they talked about “documenting” what happened in front of them almost like a fly on the wall (a concept known from the American documentary movement called Direct Cinema). In contrast, Kutchins talks about “stylization” and “heightened realism”, and he specifically mentions that he was going for an oppressive and subjective experience in The White Lotus, far removed for documentary or photojournalism:

The show is mostly handheld. Not all of it, but it is a mixture of dolly work, Steadicam and handheld camera. For me it’s an instinctual choice. Everything has to be a cohesive whole, but each scene has to be treated differently. Each scene is its own movie, and a good scene has movement and multiple acts. Maybe I will start the scene on the dolly, and as the tension rises, I will switch to handheld camera. The camera is the audience’s eyes into this story, so we’re creating a perception for the audience, and I firmly believe that we should not merely be a document or a security camera. The way you move the audience, and the lenses you choose can very much draw the audience in to this first-person perspective, this very subjective viewpoint of a story.

This is a business of entertainment, but sometimes you want people to feel uncomfortable, and sometimes you want them to feel a sense of release or joy. It’s about creating and releasing tension, like a good piece of music. It draws you in and spins you around, and then you wonder how you got there and whether you should even be there, and then it’s an orgasmic release, and then you’re back to feeling tense again. That’s what a good piece of music does, and I only hope to create that kind of experience. Often our lives are like that: Situations around us might be confusing and have some tension and be a mystery to us, and then things are revealed to us, and there’s a new mystery. That’s what a good scene does – to relate that human experience of giving us some information and then giving us a question and then giving us more information and a new question. I obsess about that, about how information is revealed. How do we see the knife in a scene where someone’s going to get stabbed? Where do you show it, and how do you show it? Is it shown obliquely or in your face? Do we do a close-up of it, or is it sort of thrown away? Is it a piece of set-dressing or presented to the audience as an artifact? Those are things that keep me up at night.

(Halskov 2021c)

The Loss of Control and the Power of Nature

Another example of the voyeuristic camera is seen at the end of Episode 3 (“Mysterious Monkeys”) where Olivia (Sydney Sweeney) spies on her friend Paula (Brittany O’Grady) and her local fling Kai (Kekoa Kekumano). The camera moves to the side of Olivia’s face before cutting to a handheld POV shot of Kai and Paula, who are making out. Olivia’s curious and slightly judgmental or jealous gaze is reflected in Kutchins’ cinematography: in the tight framing, the roaming camera and the frame within a frame (fig. 15).          

Such aesthetic choices are seen throughout The White Lotus, but in other scenes the visual style is immediately stunning, mirroring the sense of wonder and amazement that Quinn (Fred Hechinger) feels when looking away from his tablet and engaging with nature. Upon seeing Kai and Olivia making out, we cut to one such scene – a scene that is shot on location, near the beach, without any unnatural source of lighting. In this scene, Quinn is getting ready to masturbate, but as he looks up from his iPad, we cut to a wide shot of Quinn gazing at the ocean, and the natural backlight and beautiful contrasts are a soothing counterpart to the warm filters, ultra-tight framing and intense colors that are so predominant in many other scenes (Fig. 16). In the words of Kutchins:

Quinn is the youngest character in the show, and he represents hope for the future. Maybe the younger generation will figure it out, whereas we, the older generation, are all lost souls. If the younger generation can forge a connection to nature and get back to a closer sense of their true selves, there is hope. I really love that idea from the script, and whenever we were with him out in nature, I felt a great responsibility to communicate the power of nature and the expansiveness of the world. Our lives can become so small. We can believe that our whole life is happening inside a telephone or a computer screen – whatever drama in our lives that we become obsessed with, feel victimized by or feel that we can’t escape. Our lives are really our own, and everything that happens around us is just our perception of reality, so we easily feel trapped. And I thought it was a great opportunity for me to share that idea. There’s great beauty in the natural world, if we just open our eyes.

(Halskov 2021c)

Like Capone and Parekh, Ben Kutchins came from independent cinema before migrating to television, and he is used to working with handheld camera, natural lighting and other such restrictions, whether caused by budgetary limitations or self-imposed dogmas. “I grew up shooting indie movies and dealing with natural elements and making the best of it,” as he says. “Honestly, everything I do is informed by accidents or things that happened along the way. The idea of control is something of an illusion” (Halskov 2021c).

Succession inherited some of its aesthetic principles from Festen, letting the handheld camera function as a sort of counterpoint to the wealthy characters while, at times, illustrating their inner restlessness and turmoil. In The White Lotus, the warm colors, tight framing and handheld camera were used to create an oppressive and overwhelming experience. Succession aimed for a sort of Dogme-like realism, whereas The White Lotus aimed for a “heightened realism” that could it mirror its larger-than-life characters (Fig. 17). As the costume designer Alex Bovaird says:

When I first visited Hawaii, I was surprised by how much people wore tropical prints and how many men were wearing the “Aloha shirts” (what they call Hawaiian shirts!). In fact, there is a “Hawaiian business look”, which is an aloha shirt with slacks and dress shoes. I wanted the hotel uniforms to have this tropical vibe, and so for Armond I found some great prints and colors that would denote his larger-than-life character and look rather funny as he starts to unravel. 

Jennifer’s character, Tanya, was a fun one. When you read it on the page, she screams eccentricity and wealth, but she also has moments of pathos and is a complicated lady, so I didn’t want to make her vibe a total joke. I tried to hit the sweet spot of kooky and elegant, so that her outfits were a bit outrageous, but she nonetheless looks objectively great. The veil that she wears on the boat was an idea of Jennifer’s – we tried many ideas for this, and right before she goes on the dinner boat, we see her trying on different options.  

(Halskov 2021d)

Lauded for their larger-than-life characters, snappy dialogue and topical satire on white privilege, Succession and The White Lotus were two of the most popular TV series of 2021. New seasons have already been announced, and we are bound to hear more about the Shakespearean allusions and Sorkinesque dialogue in the new season of Succession and the kooky characters and apt satire in the new installment of The White Lotus. However, we should never forget the visual choices behind the quirky characters, satirical dialogue scenes and poignant moments. From subtle aesthetic choices to “visual exclamation marks”.



Note: This article is based, in part, on interviews that were made for the first and second versions of Beyond Television: TV Production in the Multiplatform Era (University Press of Southern Denmark, 2021). The full interviews will only be available in book form.