It takes a great talent to turn an ordinary story, like siblings fighting to inherit their father’s conglomerate, into an extraordinary series, and that’s exactly what Jesse Armstrong did with HBO mega-hit series Succession. However, before making headlines with his latest work, Jesse Armstrong was behind several other fine works of art that solidified his name as one of the best talents in Hollywood.
The creator of Succession, Jesse Armstrong, is a British screenwriter, author, and producer who has been part of many memorable TV series like The Thick of It (2005-2009), Peep Show (2003–2015) and Fresh Meat (2011–2016). Jesse’s work has been nominated for a ton of awards, with Jesse going home with many of them, including three Primetime Emmy Awards.
While this might come as a shock to some people, most of Jesse’s early writings are actually comedies and sketches. But again, while the tense drama was one of the biggest themes in Succession, so was the comedy—in a way. Jesse’s career has been a wild ride into Hollywood, and in this article, we take a closer look at this ride and its most unforgettable stops.
Who is Jesse Armstrong?
Jesse Armstrong was born in Oswestry town in England, and he grew up in a well-educated environment with his father working as a teacher and then turning to write crime novels while his mother worked in nursery schools.
After finishing his studying and before making his foray into screenwriting, Jesse worked on different jobs as a researcher for the Labour MP Doug Henderson, a consultant on politics for Rory Bremner’s production company, a painter, and also a decorator.
It is worth noting that Jesses studied American Studies at the University of Manchester, where he met his future writing partner Sam Bain. Following their graduation, the two writers moved to the city of London, and that’s where they started the first episode of their long and fruitful writing collaboration.
Finding the Right Partners
Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain’s initial works included a number of shows for Channel 4; they worked on the British comedy sketch show Smack the Pony (1999-2003), and the two children’s shows The Queen’s Nose (1995–2003) and My Parents Are Aliens (1999–2006). The first big bang came with the BAFTA-winning series Peep Show (2003–2015), the series aired on Channel 4, and it went down to be the channel’s longest-running comedy series.
In the early 2000s, Jesse joined a team of talented writers that included Armando Iannucci, Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche to work on the BAFTA-winner sitcom The Thick of It (2005-2009), where he worked on the first three seasons.
Next, Jesse and his partner Sam head to the radio, working on the That Mitchell and Webb Sound sketch for BBC Radio 4; the show was later adapted to a TV show titled That Mitchell and Webb Look (2006-2009) for BBC Two.
Jesse later joined Sam once again to work on the British sitcom The Old Guys (2009-2010) for BBC One. In 2011, Jesse wrote the final episode of season one of the mind-blowing series Black Mirror (2011-2023); the episode was titled “The Entire History of You“. Following that, Jesse joined Sam to work on two comedy-drama series for Channel 4 Fresh Meat (2011–2016) and Babylon (2014).
In 2012, Jesse wrote an episode in season one of the series Veep (2012–2019). Finally, in 2018 came the masterpiece, aka Succession!
When it comes to films, Jesse has made a few and yet quite interesting ventures, including writing the screenplay for the comedy film Magicians (2007) with Sam Bian. In 2009, it was the turn of the Oscar-nominee In the Loop, which was a spin-off of the hit series The Thick of It (2005-2009).
Jesse followed that by working with Sam Bian on the script for the British comedian Chris Morris’ directorial debut Four Lions (2010), which was apolitical satire. Jesse teamed up with Morris again in 2019 for the comedy The Day Shall Come, and in 2020, Jesse worked on the American black comedy Downhill.
While it may seem like Jesse Armstrong has been in showbiz for quite some time now, he is only getting started. But, so far, his work has been offering a peek into his work philosophy and what he truly believes in.
Jesse, along with Sam, has built a reputation as a writer for cult comedy; yet his work was always deeper than just comedy. Jesse’s work may have a unique comedic sharpness, but it always has a satirical tone and social criticism in a way.
Jesse is a screenwriter with a profound talent for weaving political plots and, from them, provoking a reflection that makes us rethink the ridiculousness of their practices and purposes.
Jesse Armstrong pays a great deal of attention to his characters; they are always well-designed personalities that baffle you. Even the ones that seem evil, as the story unfolds, you always find yourself as a viewer wondering if it is the right thing to actually hate them. In other words, Jesse smoothly brings the human nature that we can all relate to on some level, and perhaps that’s why his works are always so genius!
Jesse Armstrong Most Memorable Works
Jesse has perfectly cultivated his talent over the years, working with different award-winning works that helped him find his own writing voice. From his first work to the gem satire that is Succession, here are some of the most memorable works that had the Jesse Armstrong magical touch.
Peep Show (2003-2015)
The first series was created by Armstrong with his almost inseparable collaborator Sam Bain, joined by Andrew O’Connor. The series brings the existential stripping down of two rather dysfunctional flatmates, Mark (David Mitchell) and Jez (Robert Webb), who comes across one stumble after another. In the series, we observe their lives in subjective vision hearing their thoughts—to call them that—in voice-over.
The brain-frying comedy was an absolute success; even though the story sounds like an old story that has been told 1000 times, the execution takes it to the next level! The decision to film everything in a subjective view made everything look a lot more realistic.
The sitcom easily qualifies to be one of the best British sitcoms of the decade, and some even regard it as one of the best TV programmes of the 21st century! Peep Show has received rave reviews grossing numerous awards, and over the years, it has turned into a cult classic!
The Thick of It (2005–2012)
Described as “a 21st-century version of the 80s classic sitcom Yes, Minister“, this series is set in the (fictional) Ministry of Social Affairs and Citizenship, where it shows the conflicts that arise between politicians, civil servants, public relations officers and the media, resulting in a myriad of situations in which the incompetence of those in power and their advisors are exposed. Whether you’re interested in politics or not, you’ll find this comedy both funny and painfully realistic.
Jesse worked on the first three seasons of the series along with a team of talented writers, including Armando Iannucci, Roger Drew, Simon Blackwell, Ian Martin, Sean Gray, Will Smith and Tony Roche. The series was well-received by the critics and the audience, and soon enough, it became internationally well-known. The Thick of It won tons of awards, including the prestigious BAFTA, and it is considered by many as one of the best TV series ever made!
Fresh Meat (2011-2016)
After exploring the universe of the twenty-something in Peep Show and the sexagenarian in the more forgotten The Old Guys, Armstrong & Bain successfully approached the age in between in Fresh Meat.
The sitcom follows six young people who share a house, party and run around in the most chaotic years of their lives. Like most of Jesse’s work, the series featured some brilliantly illogical situations and dialogue that could be deliriously minimalist or overwhelmingly baroque.
The series was well-received by the critics, and it went on to receive several awards, including the Best New Comedy at the annual awards ceremony and the British Comedy Awards in 2011, among many others.
Now we come to the plots that are left glued to the screen, the sharp dialogue and the meanest but still beloved characters on television—that’s right, we are talking about Succession!
Succession follows the New York lives of the influential Roy family. Logan Roy (Brian Cox) leads this dysfunctional saga as the ruthless patriarch at the helm of the Waystar Roy Co. media empire. At 80 years old, his Succession is more than evident, and his four children: Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook), Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Connor (Alan Ruck), have the unbridled ambition to succeed their father as the all-powerful businessman.
At first glance, the story doesn’t seem that interesting or that it would generate that much popularity, but that’s not the case when you have the magical touch of Jesse Armstrong! In the series, Jesse masterfully presented a satire of power featuring well-knit characters that we can all relate to at some level!
It didn’t take much for Succession to be phenomenal; the series was adored by critics and audiences around the world. Not to mention the awards that kept on coming since its premiere; there are thirteen Primetime Emmy Awards, two for best drama series (2022 and 2020), five Golden Globes Awards, and five Critics’ Choice Television Awards, to name a few!
It is safe to say that Jesse Armstrong has so much more coming to offer, and we are definitely here waiting for his stellar writing to see the light of day! Jesse’s superb style never fails to present a unique dramatisation of real life, giving us stories and characters that we can all relate to.