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Suits: Series Premiere

By Tiffiny Whitney · June 24, 2011

The apparent mantra of the USA network, as they will remind you at least 20 times during any given viewing, is “Characters Welcome.”  No matter how thin or moderately original the concept, the characters are often the real heart and soul of their shows, making USA a standout in recognizing that good drama—and good television—is not necessarily all about creating a compelling plot.  Rather, the crafting of endearing characters to ensnare repeat viewership is equally important.

Their newest show, Suits, is a fun legal bit that traipses the border of dramedy, and seems in no way ready to break that mold.  That being said, it isn’t perfect yet, but has a lot of potential.  Vaguely reminiscent of Doogie Howser, M.D. or the short-lived Barely Legal, the twist that Suits takes on the ‘young and talented, yet completely unprepared for actual practice’ shtick is not the overwhelmingly young age of its protagonist, but rather that its hero has no formal training as a lawyer whatsoever.  Yet, by happenstance, kismet, and the help of a nearly photographic memory that allows him to retain and apply anything he’s ever seen or read, he lands a job as an associate in a major law firm known for its reputation of hiring only Harvard graduates.

[SPOILERS] Our protagonist, Mike Ross (Patrick Adams), was kicked out of college after some serious academic ethics violations.  Forced to abandon his dreams of becoming a lawyer, Mike embraces his entrepreneurial spirit by engaging in even more questionable ethical behaviors and opens shop passing law school entrance exams for paying customers. Fueled by the realization that his business model doesn’t exactly qualify for protection under the law when customers refuse to pay up, and combined with a sudden necessity to procure $25K to keep his dear old granny in a privately-run nursing facility, Mike makes the most logical decision possible to go legit – after first becoming a one-time drug runner for his best friend and weed-dealer, Trevor.

Things go awry (in exactly the way they’re meant to) when Mike goes to make the drop in a classy hotel where, unbeknownst to him, the drop is actually a set-up by the cops for a drug bust.  Our other major supporting character, the suave and super-smooth Ari Gold-ish lawyer, Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht), also just happens to be conducting interviews to find the next associate for his law firm in the same hotel.  Thanks to Mike’s keen powers of observation, combined with the overly-coincidental placement of Specter’s job fair, Mike quickly realizes he’s been set up and makes a break for it. 

Already in a suit so as not to look like a drug dealer, Mike takes cover by posing as a candidate for the law firm in a decision that ultimately changes the course of his life.  Even after divulging his questionable past in an almost conversational manner, Harvey is fascinated with Mike’s story and ability.  Against all logic and risking his own legal license, Harvey decides that hiring a college drop-out with a photographic memory, yet no formal legal training, makes way more sense than hiring an actual Harvard grad.  And thus begins the quirky legal drama about a kid who gets a second chance at a rewarding career not because of his hard work—but because of his freakish, coincidental ability to remember everything.  

Suits is entertaining, but certainly does have a way to go in its formation.  Thinly original and overly coincidental in its execution, Suits will need to focus on both plot and character development to make it last.  Simply because it’s only a matter of time before someone actually checks with Harvard once they realize Mike Ross knows his corporate law but can’t fill out a subpoena form, the “how long can someone pose as a Harvard law grad before getting caught” game will eventually run its course.  Like…within the first season.  And if it doesn’t, it’s an insult to the characters’ intelligence and the audience. 

To combat this, the writers have taken proven characters from other shows with compelling personality types, even if unintentionally, and inserted them so that when the inevitable occurs, audience members will still have a reason to check in every week.  As mentioned earlier, the narcissistic Harvey Specter is a near carbon copy of the Ari Gold from Entourage, just corporate cool instead of Hollywood brash.  And the emerging villain of the show, Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman), is every scummy lawyer from every legal show you’ve ever seen—a guy motivated more by his role in the show as “the bad guy” than for any other reason.  While the performances of the actors are not at fault here (in fact, they’re likely the saving grace), it’s a little unfortunate to see a talented guy like Gabriel Macht be given explicit instructions to play a smoother Jeremy Piven. 

Suits does, however, make a valiant effort to break into the Thursday night lineup with the potential – contingent on further development on unique characters and plot – of actually turning into a great show.  It’s entertaining, albeit not new.  The dialogue is witty, and the legal cases are not so over-the-top (yet) as to make the show unwatchable due to its absurdity. Even though hiring a pothead dealer non-college grad with a photographic memory as an associate for a prestigious law firm is absurd enough to turn off a fair share of viewers already.

While all the pieces are there, fitting those pieces into the plot puzzle feels a bit forced.  Act breaks and character motivation seem almost arbitrary.   Given that the show is helmed by a guy who wrote for Everybody Loves Raymond and Just Shoot Me, I’m hoping that some of its detractions are merely the growing pains that come from shifting from a half hour comedy format to an hour-long drama.  Hopefully, this will resolve itself in time. 

Peppered with the familiar, quick-witted, and good-looking characters of a David E. Kelley show, I am a little cautious to give my seal of approval just yet on Suits as a show with guaranteed longevity.  My concern is that, like so many of these types of shows, the writers will begin to focus so much attention on their borrowed stereotypes that we’ll begin to see more deus ex machina plot devices than actual innovation and creativity.  Then, just like a David E. Kelley show, it’ll jump the shark before its time.