Storytelling Done Right: USA’s “Suits”

I’ve discovered that lackluster programs generally lack luster for obvious reasons. Often they’re simply boring. Sometimes the casting and directing isn’t great. Sometimes the characters’ motives are inconsistent, and the story line just doesn’t hang together. For the most part, if I stop watching a show I can usually say why. Shows I love, though, are a little harder to dissect. I’m always on the lookout for what the program is doing right and I’ve been struggling for a while to figure out what, exactly, USA’s law-drama “Suits” is doing to keep me hooked.

Centered around a firm managed by Jessica Pearson, the show follows corporate lawyer Harvey Specter who hires a young con man (Mike Ross) who is smart enough to have passed the bar but never did. Also in the main cast are: Louis Litt (a smart but high-strung lawyer), Donna Paulsen (Harvey’s self-reliant secretary), and Rachel Zane (ambitious summer associate and Mike’s fiancee). They deal with all the usual elements that go into such a show: defending clients, balancing work and relationships, and bickering with each other. And hanging over them is the constant question of “what happens when someone outside the firm realizes we’ve hired a fraud?” Because, while Mike Ross lied about his credentials, he is everything else he seems to be (a compassionate genius who is in all other instances an ethical person). It’s hard to dislike him and it’s easy to see why Harvey hired him.

I’ve been watching the show for a few years and have been trying to suss out the one, best element that’s kept me (sometimes literally) on the edge of my seat. I love Harvey’s unwavering confidence, Mike’s dogged idealism, Donna’s seemingly endless patience. I love that Jessica Pearson manages to be both fair and ruthless, that Rachel Zane won’t back down from her goals, and that Louis can prove himself valuable despite being such a pain in the keister. The element that’s kept me captivated though is that these are people who live by codes that define them and they’re constantly caught up in situations that put them at odds with those codes. They’ll end up choosing between being compassionate or upholding the letter of the law, between adhering to their own sense of morality or helping a friend.  The show focuses on just how hard it is to be fair, and decent, and true to yourself all at the same time.

My next point of curiosity is whether that element strikes the same chord with other viewers. As an often-indecisive person, I’m really drawn to the matter of how we make difficult choices. I suspect different elements resonate with other fans.

 

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