SUITS: Thursday 10PM on USA
Last season, SUITS took a leap up in class, becoming not just the smartest and most sophisticated show on USA–which, let’s face it, isn’t the highest bar in the business–but making itself worthy of comparison with some of the best shows on anyone’s air, including legal genre colleague The Good Wife. Bravely, it flew past its original gimmicky premise of street hustler Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams) becoming, with the help of a photographic memory and cranky mentor Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht), an associate at a major New York law firm without ever attending law school, and broadened into a sharp, character-driven series. All that accomplishment paid off, too, as Suits became one of USA’s biggest hits, with a 1.2 rating last night that was up from last season’s premiere.
So what does Suits do for an encore? The first episode of its third season, written by Co-Producer Ethan Drogin and directed by David Platt, suggests that it’s planning to venture into trickier territory. Where Season 2 centered on Mike and Harvey in their combined war against smoothly villainous partner Daniel Hardman (David Constabile), Season 3 seems to be delving into the internal stresses of the main characters themselves. Mike, who last year tried and failed to start a relationship with paralegal Rachel (Meghan Markle) and fell in bed instead with married ex Tess (Elisabeth Hower), is increasingly isolated from both Harvey and Rachel, and he’s about to get a new antagonist in a former ADA (Amanda Schull) Harvey’s hired. Harvey, for his part, appeared to be tempted by a romance with a jury consultant (Jacinda Barrett) with the kind of baggage that would normally drive him away–a niece she’s planning to raise because of her brother’s grave illness. And poor, put-upon Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman) doesn’t even know yet that he’s been smacked yet again by Harvey and managing partner Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres), his A-list hire rejected in favor of Harvey’s.
This kind of plotting is difficult because it needs nuance, and the season premiere pushed too hard on Mike’s crisis of conscience brought on when he was asked to defend someone guilty of a DUI after his own parents had been killed by a drunk driver. It was all a little simplistic, especially when Mike paid a visit to the lawyer who’d represented his parents’ killer in an attempt to shame the man and purge himself. (Meanwhile, why is the show so obsessed with Mike’s pot smoking? It’s used as such an unerring sign of his declining moral character that the season premiere felt like it could have hailed from the producers of Reefer Madness.) Louis’ masochistic sex life is also dangerous terrain for a show that doesn’t want to be too caroonish. On the other hand, Harvey’s and Jessica’s increasing impatience with Mike felt right, as did Harvey’s ruthless tactics to protect Mike, even against his will.
There’s plenty of season left for Suits, and the show has earned some patience while it plays out its scheme for 2013. Even in its weaker moments, the dialogue is crisp and well-played by a letter-perfect cast. (In addition to those already named, Sarah Rafferty, who plays Harvey’s right arm of an assistant and who had a gratifyingly large part to play last season, should also be mentioned.) If Suits can maintain its recent high standards, it’ll cement its place as one of the most entertaining, handsomely tailored hours on the air.