Slick tailoring, zingers galore, no implausible killers; Hamish MacBain on why you need cult dramedy Suits in your life
"What,” asks New York lawyer Harvey Specter of his new assistant, in Suits’ second episode, “are your choices when someone puts a gun to your head?”
“What are you talking about?” responds said assistant Mike Ross, who has managed to blag his job at top law firm Pearson Hardman, despite never having been to law school and having done the interview on the run from a drug deal gone bad. “You do what they say or they shoot you.”
“Wrong. You take the gun, or you pull out a bigger one. Or you call their bluff. Or you do any one of 146 other things. If you can’t think for yourself, maybe you’re not cut out for this.”
If you are scoffing at the above, then maybe you are not cut out for Suits. It is a long way from the ‘gritty realism’ of whichever critically acclaimed, (overly) serious slow-burning drama you’ve been trudging through.
It is also all the better for it. Suits might be set in the real world of New York corporate law, but its reality is a hyper-heightened one. Suits is Mad Men with Jack Bauer as Don Draper. It’s Entourage without all the superfluous annoying people (ie everyone except Ari). It’s The Wire minus everything except the bit where Omar jumps through a fifth-story window and survives. In other words, all of its characters are slick, sexy, preposterously sharply dressed and communicate exclusively in lightning bolt zingers like the one above.
Launched in 2011 with minimal fanfare, the show has steadily grown into a word-of-mouth, honestly-you-really-should-watch-it success. Now on its third series (a fourth has already been commissioned), it’s the sort of phenomenon that inspires fans to flood the internet with angry blog posts about Emmy snubs and videos devoted to Harvey Specter’s machine-gunned one-liners.
“I mean, I don’t think anyone actually talks like that,” smiles Gabriel Macht, who plays the quotable corporate attorney. “But my interpretation of Harvey is that he’s like the Batman of lawyers. He’s a superhero. And I think, at times, when the economy is in the toilet, people want to live vicariously through characters such as this.”
“We’re in a financial crisis that’s destroyed the world,” continues Patrick J Adams, who co-stars as Mike. “The government is about to default on a major national debt, and the whole world is thinking, ‘Is this gonna work?’ And for me, I think the reason people are drawn to a character like Harvey, is it’s the old world. It works. People like that are badasses. It’s ‘We kill! America’s the best! Everything’s great!’”
Certainly, as well as the fact that it prizes entertainment over authenticity, a lot of what makes Suits so watchable is its unashamed sense of machismo. And it’s no surprise to learn that it was originally a show about financiers set in Wall Street.
But crucially, rather than being a throwback to Gekkodom, it’s also distinctly modern and progressive in a lot of its attitudes. As Sarah Rafferty – Harvey’s whip-smart secretary Donna – notes: “The way the women are written in this show is that they’re not trying to be ‘in a man’s world’, they’re just in a world.”
“And not only is the head of the firm a woman,” adds Meghan Markle (who plays paralegal Rachel Zane), “but it’s also a black woman [Jessica Pearson, played by Gina Torres]. That could have been written as anyone, and in the past would have been a white male. So that alone is pretty huge.”
Indeed, as Series 3 begins in the UK – on Dave in a fortnight, which gives you time to catch up or shut up – said head of the firm is at loggerheads with Harvey, the situation further complicated by the arrival of a group of Brit lawyers, who are also against him. It should be noted at this point that the plotlines in Suits are excellent, and more effortlessly complex than a lot of more talked-about shows. But the main reason that this is great news is because it means a further upping in the quotient of lines such as, “I’d say the ball’s in your court, but truth is your balls are in my fist” and – my current personal favourite – “When your back is against the wall, knock it down.”
The fact that the promo for the last series of Suits in the UK used the tagline, “Your education on how to dress and talk awesomely continues” is telling. It’s a show that is knowingly ridiculous (even though beneath its shiny surface it’s actually very clever). And one reason why it feels like it might be about to break through is that its characters are so old-school aspirational, in stark contrast to Walter White or whichever morally complex detective is being talked up this week. Suits is taking the ‘anti’ out of antihero.
DRESS THE PART
“Everybody loves a hero like Harvey Spector. It’s the fantasy,” says Adams. “He wins everything. There are people who are totally bored by it: ‘This is so inaccurate, it’s so not the world.’ But the fact is, it’s not really a law show. We’re not Law & Order. But that’s exactly why a lot of lawyers love it: it’s a sexier version of their world.”
Macht, too, notes how show creator Aaron Korsh (whose background is in finance) responds to protests about the show’s legitimacy with the argument that most real cops only pull their guns out once or twice in their entire career, whereas on TV it’s every two seconds and nobody calls it unrealistic. TV drama in the past few years has become overly preoccupied with such things, forgetting that its primary purpose is escapism. Suits is a clear reaction against this, and that’s why it feels like it’s about to have its moment.
And for all of the bad rap ‘The Suit’ has received in recent years, the idea remains a powerful male archetype. More so with the slightly sinister Zuckerbergifcation of the boardroom, where CEOs are indistinguishable from your teenage cousin. Doesn’t it make you yearn for the days when businessmen were businessmen? Making million-dollar deals before breakfast while wearing a suit worth thousands of pounds, crushing their enemies with one-line bullets before retiring to an office overlooking the city, sipping a Macallan 1946.
And, honestly, who wouldn’t want to do that? Or, indeed, watch that?
Suits Season 3 begins 30 January on Dave at 9pm and DaveOD from 23 January