Let’s start with the admittedly far-fetched set up. Slick New York lawyer Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht), an “arrogant, self-absorbed, blowhard” as his sassy assistant Donna describes him, is cajoled into hiring a new associate for his law firm but is distinctly unimpressed with the sea of suited, blank-faced Harvard drones presented to him for interview. Mike (Patrick J. Adams), meanwhile, is a genius-level college dropout who ekes out a living by taking the LSATS test for suited, blank-faced Harvard drones and is resigned to never realising his dream of becoming a lawyer.
That is until, as is the way with American TV, an absurd twist of fate throws these two polar opposites together to make legal magic. When a drug deal goes awry, a fleeing Mike stumbles into Harvey’s office and so impresses him with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the law that he unexpectedly wins the job – despite not having a Harvard law degree. Or any degree for that matter.
Fortunately, they’re the perfect fit for each other: Mike’s naiveté and sympathy towards his clients dovetailing nicely with Harvey’s disconnected, gung-ho approach to cases. Their snappy chemistry and punchy back and forth is the cornerstone of the show, their witty exchanges giving Suits a unique rhythm to set it apart from other, courtroom obsessed, legal dramas.
Aside from the strain keeping Mike’s lack of qualifications secret has on his and Harvey’s relationships, much of the tension comes in the form of pitting Mike’s impractical kindness against the ruthless nature of his Pearson Hardman colleagues. In this world, corporate lawyers are cold-blooded sharks who are unafraid of hiring a sneaky private investigator to dig up dirty secrets or of just plain old lying to their opponents in order to win, something which is at odds with Mike’s relatively keen sense of right and wrong (he is, after all, a fraud and former drug dealer).
Series one follows a case of the week format as Mike gets to grips with the world of corporate law, but subsequent series have opted for a serialised structure featuring storylines that run across the series’ duration. Series two, for instance, sees an ousted senior partner return to the firm to wreak havoc using his oily, disingenuous charms. While most episodes often risk straying into melodrama territory – every ad break is seemingly preceded by an ominously ambiguous threat or someone dramatically storming out of the room – the show is otherwise smartly written, flawlessly switching between taut legal wrangles and snappy exchanges to maintain a breezy tempo.
It’s also well acted by a first-rate supporting cast with a strong female presence. Gina Torres towers over the rest of her colleagues as no-nonsense, fiercely driven managing partner Jessica, while Sarah Rafferty frequently shines as Harvey’s amusingly capable assistant Donna, who’s so on the ball she can tell her boss’s mood by the colour of his shirt and the way he positions his tie.
The actor having the most fun, however, is Rick Hoffman as the impetuous Lewis Litt. Starting out as a grouchy junior partner, Litt has gradually morphed into a loveable tyrant who frequently steals the best lines: “My spider parts are tingling.” His arcane tastes (he has an inexplicable love for those of a feline persuasion) and subtle air of a lonely, misunderstood man longing for respect have turned him into a firm fan’s favourite complete with his own catchphrase: “You just got Litt up.”
Airing Thursday nights on Dave in the UK, Suits is a fabulously fast-paced legal drama spliced with a punchy wit, usually delivered by its two excellent leads, that manages to be gripping and engaging despite almost never setting foot inside a courtroom. Series four can’t come soon enough.
Click here to watch the trailer for Suits