– Spoilers Ahead –
Characters are what attract audiences to television; good story is what makes them want to stay. This is the statement we hear all the time from various critics and viewers alike. However, when the most popular and fan-driven series feature the likes of Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, and The Walking Dead, it’s hard to prove the character and story elements to be the driving force behind success. What the equation needs is a series that doesn’t rely on the gimmick of fantastical set pieces or selling point of a 10-episode and out structure. It needs a show where the only conclusion one could possibly come to for success is the strength of character and story alone: enter USA’s Suits.
The New York City set law-series on USA is the example we need to prove the fact we already know is true. When it began, Suits had a premise, but not a super exciting one: when genius Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams) is on the run from the cops, he runs into Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) who, after becoming impressed by the criminal’s ability to absorb information, gives Mike the chance to go legit by giving him an associate position at his firm, Pearson Hardman. The problem? The firm only hires graduates from Harvard Law and Mike doesn’t even have a degree. So, a hooky premise and two characters who have to maintain a secret to keep from losing everything, something that’s been done many times before, yet somehow Suits has grown into an extremely complex show about the struggle for power and what it takes to obtain it. This is where the story element comes into question.
What Suits does in its first season is something we see so little of on television these days: it takes its time to build its world. By the end of season one, it’s no longer just the Mike and Harvey show. It’s the Donna show. It’s the Jessica show. It’s the Louis show. It’s the Rachel show. And in season two, this becomes clear as the series completely changes not only the dynamics of the characters with Jessica learning Mike’s secret, but the structure of the storytelling itself. Through season two, things move away from a procedural structure and begin taking the form of a serialized drama with the entire team focusing on a single case, the case of potential wrong doing by Harvey, all while dealing with the return of Daniel Hardman, a name partner that was forced out of the firm by Jessica and Harvey many years back.
As the season progresses, what we begin to see is a power struggle among lawyers. Of course, one would image this to be dull as dirt, but it’s not, because Harvey Specter and his gang of merry men (and women) are indeed that engaging and fascinating. These characters, from the outside, have it all. They make good money. They rock expensive suits. They drive cool cars. They work in a high-rise. But their lives are so far from good, it’s sad. These people feed off each other, and without one another, they’d be dead in the water. Every single one of their lives would fall apart without their surrounding colleagues. When Harvey comes after Louis for betraying him in the fight against Hardman, it matters because we thought Louis was, above anything else, loyal to Jessica and the firm. When Donna gets fired, we don’t care because we all love Donna (well, we do, but still), we care because Donna is the only thing holding Harvey back from the edge. When Mike finally reveals the truth to Rachel, we care because he’s putting all the control of his fate in the hands of another.
Suits is more than just a show about lawyers. It’s a show about struggle. It’s a show about consequences. It’s a show about what it means to be in control. Does having your name on a wall really give you power, or does that, in reality, come from the loyalty and respect of those around you? The reason Suits matters, and the reason you need to be watching it is because it’s the kind of show we need to be demanding more of from networks. There’s no reason a series should HAVE to feature fire-breathing dragons and zombies to be successful, and this proves it. It proves it every week as it defiantly sends and email and makes a copy, chanting to the rafters: who said lawyers can’t be cool?
Suits Season 4 premieres tonight at 9/8c on USA. Will you be watching?