Most of the early weeks of the summer were focused on Game of Thrones, Mad Men and Girls, and the latter half of the summer has been squarely centered on Breaking Bad, Newsroom, and Louie. That’s as it should be. Five of those shows are brilliant, and one of them comes from Aaron Sorkin, a guy many consider one of the better writers on television. Or at least once did. There are other shows that occupy our time: Bunheads is good, Dallas is terrible, and Longmire and Political Animals are watchable, but there’s one show that’s not getting very much play despite quietly becoming one of the better escapist dramas on television.
That show is USA Network’s Suits.
Last year, if you watched the first few episodes of Suits, and then bailed, no one would have held it against you. In fact, that’s exactly what I did: Despite a strong pilot and charismatic lead actors (Gabriel Macht and Patrick Adams), Suits seemed like yet another legal procedural in a television marketplace dominated by them. It felt like simply another show in the USA Network factory: Take middle-of-the-road attractive people, cast them in an episodic series with self-contained episodes, and bookend each episode with a never-ending serial arc that most viewers will stop caring about by midway through the first season.
However, on the recommendation of several reader who had noted the show’s marked improvement over the course of the first season, I was convinced to check back in. I’m glad I did. Suits certainly doesn’t belong in the same company as Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, but it is a satisfying, often riveting, and always enjoyable series that has found a way to bring some dramatic tension to USA Network’s brand of breezy escapism.
In fact, the second season of Suits has borrowed a page from the best legal drama currently on television, The Good Wife, and eschewed much of those self-contained episodes in favor of a serialized season-long arc focused on office politics. They brought in David Costabile (Gale from Breaking Bad) and turned the show into a mini, contemporary Game of Thrones-lite: The cases have become secondary, taking a backseat to who will get control over the firm.
Macht plays Harvey Specter, a senior partner at Pearson & Hardman. Suits is not a courtroom drama; most of it takes place in conference rooms and is focused on the gamesmanship of settlements. Harvey is considered the best closer in New York City, a guy that turns cases into high-stakes poker games that he always wins. The first season is largely centered on his relationship with Mike Ross (Patrick Adams), whose high-concept hook is that he can remember everything he’s ever read, a skill that allowed him to pass the bar despite never having gone to law school. Harvey brings him into the firm, and the two build an elaborate fabricated backstory about his years at Harvard Law to keep him on as an associate.
Much of the first season tension revolved around whether Harvey and Mike would get away with it, but as its settled into the second season, the fact that Mike doesn’t have a law degree has become an afterthought. Instead, the focus has shifted to the office dynamics and the relationships between the characters. Harvey and Mike’s relationship is not exactly a Franklin-and-Bash bromance: It’s a mentor/mentee relationship with a lot of built in respect and admiration. Meanwhile, Mike wants to be involved with a (superf—inghot) paralegal (Meghan Markle), but their working relationship keeps them apart. There’s some sexual tension between Harvey and his secretary, Donna (Sarah Rafferty), but most of the stress in their relationship centers on Donna’s ability to keep Harvey in check and protect him from his own ego.
In fact, the fulcrum upon which this season rests is a very simple one: In an earlier case, Donna failed to spot a document that the plaintiff should have been privy to. Harvey is sued by an nemesis for covering up the document. Donna discovers the document and shreds it without Harvey’s knowledge. Harvey thus faces disbarment, which puts the position of his mentor, the firm’s managing partner, Jessica Pearson (Firefly’s Gina Torres) at risk from Daniel Hardman, who is trying to dethrone Pearson in an office coup d’état. Meanwhile the firm’s Littlefinger, Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman), is playing all sides in an effort to promote his own interests.
Amidst all of this, showrunner Aaron Korsh still manages to squeeze in a few monster-of-the-week cases, so to speak, to keep those not immediately involved with the firm’s power dynamic occupied and the viewer entertained.
Nothing about Suits, of course, is altering the television landscape, and the show is certainly not any threat to television’s heavier dramas. However, over the course of the series, it’s become a rock-solid show, one that’s willing to challenge the ADHD of the typical USA Network viewer. It’s not a show that’s going to turn heads or win awards, but it’s a confident show with strong characters, compelling storylines, and enough suspense to ensure that episodes won’t pile up in your DVRs. Truthfully, I kind of love it.