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Review: With New Law Drama, USA Network 'Suits' Up

by Maureen Ryan, posted Jun 23rd 2011 1:00PM
USA Network has been quite clear about its mission. It's positioned itself as the network where you can enjoy yourself without having to learn too much backstory about the show you're watching -- and yet you don't necessarily have to check your brain at the door when you're watching USA's better offerings.

So, given how clear USA is in its branding, why does its new show, 'Suits' (10PM ET Thursday) feel muddled, despite some strong performances? I don't think there's anything wrong with the show's premise, which concerns two somewhat mismatched legal eagles. But the central relationship isn't as interesting -- or as central -- as it should be, nor am I sure the show's writers have a clear grasp of the kind of jeopardy that's fun to witness vicariously.

Here's the kind of jeopardy that isn't fun to witness vicariously: Finding out whether patent paperwork was filed correctly. Variations on this scenario transpire in the show's second episode, and these paper-shuffling scenes just didn't feel like they fit on the network of Hamptons docs and enterprising spies.

The pilot for 'Suits' (which runs 82 minutes with commercials) is briskly competent, if a little padded, and I quite enjoyed the lead performance from Gabriel Macht as Harvey Spector, the best legal "closer" in Manhattan. Spector is arrogant and entitled, but then, he appears to be every bit as good at his job as people say he is, plus he has a amused sparkle in his eye that lets you know that he's enjoying his performance as a corner-office big shot just as much as you are.

In the pilot, Harvey comes across Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams), a hustler who knows the law cold but doesn't have an actual law degree. Even so, Harvey hires Mike as an associate at the firm, and even tries to pass him off as a Harvard Law grad.

The thing is, these two guys should form the core of the show, and the fact that they're hiding a secret from everyone around them should drive both the tension and the emerging friendship between them. A similar USA show, 'White Collar,' got the tricky dynamic between the lead guys right much more quickly than 'Suits' has, and given how important this central relationship is, it's weird that the show wanders away from it so frequently.

A fair amount of the show consists of Harvey telling Mike to complete some legal task that Mike has no idea how to do and has to figure out from the ground up. A bewildered Mike looks for colleagues who will help him and tries to fend off fellow associates who try to manipulate him, but, generally speaking, watching someone else flail through legal paperwork and navigate standard office politics is just not that compelling.

Macht and Adams are appealing performers, especially Macht, who makes Harvey's almost-douche status enjoyable, and the difference between their approaches -- Harvey pretends not to care about others, while the street-smart Mike may care a little too much -- could be the basis for a reasonably decent legal drama.

But the storytelling in the first couple of episodes is so muddled that, mechanically and emotionally, events don't quite land as they should. It's not really clear why Harvey is taking such a big chance in hiring Mike, and in the pilot, an ongoing threat that Mike faces feels manufactured, as do scenes of Mike and his frail grandmother (of course Mike has to have a sick grandmother that he's taking care of. This is USA Network -- he can't lie about his legal bona fides just because).

Gina Torres, who plays a senior partner at the firm, Meghan Markle and Sarah Rafferty constitute the show's female cast, but none of the ladies get anything particularly interesting to do in the early going. Rick Hoffman, who plays the firm's disciplinarian/creepy comic relief, gets rather too much to do in the second episode, which adds to the feeling that Mike and Harvey are too disconnected at that stage. Hoffman's a skilled character actor, but he's best used in small doses, especially when 'Suits' is still trying to establish why we should care about the lead characters' fragile connection. The second episode is just too convoluted to do that with any logical or emotional efficiency.

'Suits' is a show that I'll occasionally check in on to see whether its early growing pains were just that or indicators of systemic problems. It hasn't yet proven that it can find consistently satisfying things to do with the legal drama (Harvey's "closing" scenes are fun though I can see them becoming a bit of a crutch). Still, it's better than 'Franklin & Bash,' and may yet prove that it can fit comfortably within the USA wheelhouse of "light but not too light" dramas.


By the way, Thursday also marks the return of USA's 'Burn Notice.' For more on the new season of the show, check out this recent interview with creator Matt Nix (by the way, Part 2 of that interview will be published Friday).

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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douglasmrk

Show is good but you need to use another word instead of GD. Really you writers can do better than that. When you do that it leave a bad image of the show.

September 20 2011 at 4:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
douglasmrk

Sooner or later you will find out that the use of GD will bring begin your down fall, You can do better than that. Good show but find another way to express yourself.

September 20 2011 at 4:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jpkelly13

I for one love the show. Is it 100% realistic? No, of course not. it's a TV drama on USA. It is a smart, fun show with some strong characters with a great opportunity to be developed as the series goes on. With regards to the comments about the language, the phrase (GD) you are all upset about is used on many shows. Its not being used to single out, target or offend Christians. While you have every right to be offended, if you lighten up a bit and give the show a chance you might just like it.

September 06 2011 at 3:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Zeita

I am offended at the use of the GD word. Otherwise I love the show.

July 29 2011 at 1:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cgeye

Rant the Third:

Which brings me to Suits' greatest flaw: Harvey. He's a douche, not even a redeemable one, he talks as if he's smart, but smart people listen, and wait, and play several moves ahead. Harvey, in every episode, flounders, has a mouth that writes checks that his actions can't cash, and loses business so much that the firm's rainmaker must practice target shooting with Harvey's picture. Frightening clients by being a reckless ******* will, sooner or later, catch up with him, solely because rich clients have the perogative of having all their servants kiss their ass. His confidence is bluff, and we'll have to see something other than material possessions that he cares about, before he's dismissable as too shallow and programmatic. There's not a shred of difference between Macht and Hoffman's characters, save one's played by someone prettier. This is a USA hero? If he were on FX, he'd be killed or raped by the antihero before sweeps.

The less I say about Mike, the better. He's veal one moment, vile the next, utterly clueless about being streetwise, even though he's raised himself through petty theft and swindling for all those years after college. He hates the druggie life, and somehow has stayed so unsoiled no undercover cop can recognize or blackmail him.

None of the people he's taken tests for (lawyers, now, remember?) see him now and shake him down? Threaten to tell, unless he throw a case in their favor? Not one ex-classmate shakes him down? That's the main flaw with this universe -- such a bitterly incestuous culture, as a big-time Manhattan law firm with only Harvard law school graduates, would use networks as a noose. Any character who lies about his past, without having millions of dollars to bribe his way clear, will suffer the consequences before he gets his first promotion. In a real law firm, the lack of any Pearson Harden lawyer recallling his presence anywhere on campus, at any time, would sink him. He'd know no friends of theirs, and no one would know him. They'd be the living employment verification database, and he'd be rejected immediately. They built their world wrong; I'm surprised, since USA usually asks more, logically, or much less, for the sake of escapism. Even the most escap-y show, Royal Pains, puts down solid medical procedural roots. At this point, for Suits, the insistence in setting action on a cutthroat world, but allowing epic sloppiness in plots and characterization, are just too deep to be relaxed into, or enjoyed.without nagging refrigerator logic questions.

(insert Moff's Law prophylactic here -- I care, because when they namecheck the ruthless pursuit of excellence as their protagonist's goal, they should check themselves lest they wreck themselves. QED.)

July 08 2011 at 1:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cgeye

Rant the Second:

Now, as for the fatal flaw. It's the same flaw The Good Wife had, so it's understandable. However, when TGW revealed that a mailroom worker had a conviction as a sex offender, its narrative tripped. Fortunately, that show's too good to blame it much. Suits doesn't have that luxury. It hasn't earned it yet.

No law firm's H/R department would risk the liability should a sex offender attack a female co-worker, and none would hire an associate without a background check. That means someone would have called Harvard before any piece of paper is signed, to verify that our dear urchin actually attended and graduated. Every university, every large employer, has a dedicated phone number for verifying resume details. Somehow that was skipped? Even when considering lawyers probably are covered by an insurance policy that requires such verification? In any company worth its H/R staff, a secretary or janitor's not hired without pouring over references, and if they're not, a lot of bribing and corruption has to be endemic, to grease palms properly. Does USA want us to see Pearson Harden as systemically corrupt, or negligent?

In this security state era, Mike's lack of resume, application or confirmation of life details just doesn't work. You're telling me PH has no detective on retainer, just for scoping out new hire pecadillos? Like that drug dealer known associate wouldn't be a problem? That test-taking and overall cheating vocation? If the law firm doesn't probe Mike, then an associate with a grudge? USA can't set up Pearson Harden as a law firm comparable in clout to DAMAGES', but soft-pedal that necessarily cutthroat environment, so our precious knockabout boys can play? God, it makes me long for the day of Wolfram & Hart, where fear of losing one's head was prudent....

Related to this rankling implausibility: If Jessica took a chance on Harvey, to the point of training him and paying for his HLS tuition, how can he pay her back by putting their law firm in this much deep ethical trouble? Every case they win, every contract signed can be made void by their hiring someone legally unqualified to practice law, then covering that up. There's no backsies on this -- the law firm's on the precipice, no matter how many cute, vaguely homoerotic mimicry and fist bumps Harvey and Mike share. If we're supposed to root for the development of Harvey's ethics and Mike's skills, in the pursuit of justice for the underdog, how can we support this ongoing cheating? I get we're supposed to root for the ends instead of the means, but really.

July 08 2011 at 1:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cgeye

@RayShields: Most Manhattan big-firm lawyers curse worse than that when their whiskey's not topped up. These are the boys who create every foul joke riffing on national tragedies, with the help of those Wall Street buds. For USA, it's a stretch, but tame by FX standards and by the standards of this world.

My rant, the first: The Barney Collier Problem.....

Okay, we get it, Gina Torres can play Jessica as a woman-of-color whose womanhood or color is irrelevant. The problem is that the world such an assumption requires is decidedly less realistic, and dramatic, than the world we live in now.

For Mr. Collier (the original model, because Bill Cosby's trailblazing also involved actual characterization), when he's in between walls or rewiring systems, who cared about racism? But when he's supposedly a guard or worker in a Eastern European or Third World country where the spectre of African slavery and Nazism still hovers, that color-blindness that only explored race when the M:I team visited a South African analog is disturbingly implausible. Yes, it was social progress for Collier to be there, but it was narratively retardant to not use his ethnicity as they used Cinnamon's gender.

That's why the stakes felt lighter than they should have been, when Collier was stopped in his work by a patrolling guard -- it was if not only his ethnicity were invisible, but the character himself. As for Jessica, I know Ms. Torres wouldn't get out of bed for anything less than a compelling backstory -- prob is, the "hard-knock life" slot's been taken by both her male leads. Meanwhile, she runs an office of almost all-white, all-male lawyers. It's as if she never read the diversity memo that allowed her to be hired in the first place. Last I heard, HLS has plenty women and minorities to be hired, so the law firm's Crimson requirement is being narrowly and deliberately met to keep the white boys flowing. Not a good luck, for a premise that intends to use themes of social justice in contrast to the ******** of the universe law firm culture.

July 08 2011 at 1:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
RayShields

Watched the 3rd episode, and my last! Language inappropriate for this type of upscale story. Great series, but will be a loser in the long run.

July 07 2011 at 11:10 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
RayShields

Watched the 2nd episode and only one use of the unnecessary GD term. Lets drop it all together. We can watch Law and Order LA, NCIS, NCIS LA, GOOD Wife, Leverage, Criminal Intent, Closer, Glades, good viewing all without the unnecessary off color GD language.

July 04 2011 at 11:40 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Riley Freeman

i like the show. made a friend watch it and she loves it too. just wish there was someone in canada that broadcasts it. im stuck downloading

July 02 2011 at 4:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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