Apologies for the lack of punctuality with this review, I couldn’t get to the Suits pilot until this weekend.
I had some substantial reservations about Suits coming into my viewing of the pilot. You folks know that I’m very intrigued by the USA Network brand and its programming formula and as I wrote about the other day, I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to see the cable giant try their hand at another legal drama. Fairly Legal was not very good its first season and I wondered if USA was trying a little too hard to step outside its traditional crime solvers box. And in general, I’m not a big fan of legal dramas, especially ones that don’t have a larger scope or backdrop like The Good Wife.
I found Suits to be really enjoyable and entertaining in this initial pilot episode. I was concerned about the length of the episode considering USA’s house style to produce extra-long pilots is almost never worth it (White Collar and Burn Notice being the only exceptions, really) and I had no real desire to see an extra-long legal case. But the case is not particularly dominant here, leaving lots of time for solid character development for Mike and Harvey. I really like this cast, especially Patrick J. Adams in the lead role, but Gabriel Macht is charmingly dickish enough and Meghan Markle is surprisingly beaming as well after a fairly weak performance on Fringe. Everyone has a nice, comfortable chemistry with one another. Mike’s tremendous memory is a sufficient “special skill” that all of USA’s lead Characters must have.* And in general, Suits fits all the important bullet points of the USA formula (Character with a special skill, supporting family member, weekly case, beautiful locations) and mostly discards its most problematic (there’s no real “mythology” introduction here, which is a welcome change).
*As a little sneak peak at my thesis, I’ll capitalize the word here as well. The purposefulness of how USA uses the Character in all contexts is really intriguing to me. OK, I’ll stop.
To be honest, I liked this pilot more than I did the Royal Pains, Covert Affairs or Fairly Legal pilots. That might seem like faint praise and it sort of is, but this is coming from someone who is perhaps more invested/interested in the USA brand than most. I watch everything USA Network has to offer and at least at the pilot stage, I really like Suits. But there’s a major problem with that. The things that are strongest in this episode won’t necessarily be found in future episodes. The development and pacing of Mike in his life before and leading up to getting the job with Harvey is the best part of the episode. The quasi-origin story if you will, is pretty solid.
Unfortunately, the actual legal case work is the worst part of Suits and I’m nearly 100 percent sure that it won’t disappear when we get to episode two. I left the episode sort of unclear what kind of law the firm practices, but I think it’s mostly corporate law. I’m never one to glorify severe crime on television, but I would much rather watch a legal show about murder, rape, etc. than one about white-collar crime and back-door contract law. That is not an appealing kind of law for storytelling, especially visual storytelling. This is the same problem White Collar had in its early episodes, but the writing staff figured out how to mash more obvious crimes with a higher class of problems and the cases were better for it. The Good Wife succeeds because the characters are so strongly developed, but no series on USA is going to pay that kind of attention to its characters, leaving the weekly cases as the primary vehicle for storytelling. I will not be able to get behind this.
Some things will stick around, hopefully. Adams’ chemistry with Macht and Markle shouldn’t go away in coming episodes and the series could be able to coast on that for a while, but no offense to the Suits leads, but they aren’t Matthew Bomer and Tim DeKay. The series wants to badly to be White Collar, Legal Edition and there’s a chance it could be. But there needs to be a stronger hook to keep the audience coming back. Perhaps (gulp) this is where an ongoing arc would be beneficial, but most USA series are so poor at executing those kinds of stories that it’s probably for the best to avoid it. Mike’s ability will only go so far since it doesn’t really have a visual element to it and the danger of whether or not he and Harvey will be caught isn’t enough of a dominant dramatic element to sustain episodes either.
Of course, this is just a USA summer series. It is going to be purposefully breezy and lightweight and ultimately, that is probably fine. I might not enjoy any episode as much as I enjoyed this pilot, but I guess that is alright. Suits is more like Royal Pains and less like Burn Notice or White Collar in that it will have to rely fully on performer chemistry and general vibe to succeed. The pilot suggests it could succeed, but I’m not entirely sure.