I first met Harvey and Mike during a short ride on Southwest Airlines.
Not wanting to watch a sumptuous visual feast like “Succession” on an iPhone screen, I downloaded the pilot of “Suits,” the legal drama that ran for nine pre-pandemic seasons on the USA Network. In 2023, “Suits” somehow felt right for a flight from New Orleans to Washington, D.C. And I could finally appease my younger brother Tyler, a lawyer who wouldn’t stop talking about this incredibly unserious show about lawyers.
The addicting formula: Harvey is a hard-line senior partner who wants to win at all costs. Mike, his associate, has a photographic memory and a heart of gold but (shh!) no law degree (gasp!). Can these two opposites win court cases and maybe find love (and themselves), or will Mike’s secret tear them apart?
“Suits” is not very good. I cannot stop watching.
I’ve watched it on the couch, on public transit, on my Peloton (an act I’ve dubbed a “Suits ’N Spin”). I’ve watched it with a morning coffee and an evening beer. And I’ve barely made a dent in the 134-episode count.
Earlier this year, “Suits” became a streaming smash. During one week this summer, it racked up more than 3.14 billion minutes of watch time — a Netflix record. By December, it surpassed 45 billion minutes. “Suits” is yet another example of the streaming service giving an old show new life, as it did with “You,” “Schitt’s Creek” and “Manifest” before it.
The acting is … fine. The writing is … fine.
Imagine B-plus actors reading soapy lines by a stoned college screenwriting major who thinks he’s penned the next “A Few Good Men.” Both the plotlines and the dialogue manage to be simultaneously monotonous and ridiculous.
The show is devoid of A-list names. Katherine Heigl, who was sort of a big deal 16-ish years ago, appears in one season as a partner. Meghan Markle gives a serviceable performance in seven seasons as Rachel, a tough, brilliant, unlucky-in-love paralegal who is too bad at taking tests to pass the LSAT (but later becomes a lawyer! Gasp!). Then Markle graduated to a better show in real life. If Markle had never dated Prince Harry and become the Duchess of Sussex, would anyone have given “Suits” a second look? They barely gave it a first one: Its viewership dwindled every season, to around 1 million viewers for its final-season premiere in 2019.
But then Netflix and the almighty algorithm — and my brother — put it squarely on my radar. And I’ve been loving every single stupid second. Over 45 billion minutes of watching! That’s more than 85,000 years worth of attention on a dinky little drama with no big ambitions.
Since the birth of HBO and then the rise of streaming services, our television dramas have grown extra serious. They tackle the American Dream (“The Sopranos”), the American City (“The Wire”), the American Nightmare (“Breaking Bad”).
These shows were thrilling! They were cinematic in ambition. They were fun to dissect, to debate. I’ll never forget watching “The Wire” for the first time. I didn’t know a television show could have the lyrical and narrative depth of a novel.
But in our addiction to Prestige TV, we lost sight of Easy TV and its passive comfort, its disposability. The infected zombies of “The Last of Us” provide no lullaby, when really we could use content that makes us zone out for a while.
“The Wire” is easily my favorite show, but it’s a spelunking into the rotten recesses of society. It grapples with the destruction of Baltimore, extreme poverty, the drug war’s erosion on the vulnerable. Broken lives. Desolation. Addiction. Murder. Characters are swept away by gunfire as consistently as they’re introduced.
The pleasure of “Suits,” on the other hand, is in how utterly uncomplicated the show is. This isn’t a rumination on the state of the American Dream. It does not consider the human condition. It’s not thoughtful, and it’s not critical. The characters in will always thrive — and with relative ease. They will always wear thousand-dollar suits. They will never die, grow ill or face actual hardship.
Instead, each episode will go something like this: Harvey and Mike will get a new case. Harvey will immediately know how to win, even if it might hurt an innocent bystander. Mike won’t stand for the collateral damage, but Harvey will point out he’s indebted to the partner for hiring him, despite his lack of a law degree (shh!). At the last minute, Mike will inevitably use his memory to find a painless path to victory. Toss in a slight cliffhanger, and a sprinkling of “will they or won’t they?” between Mike and Rachel.
There’s clean resolution and treacly affirmation. “Suits” bridged the Obama and Trump eras, but it’s only true point of view is that things work out in the long run. Shows like this are hope personified.
And it is set in a New York City where everything is beautiful and nothing hurts. True fantasyland!
This show was never taking home Emmys. It received middling reviews from the few critics who bothered reviewing it. A glance at Metacritic reveals insipid reviews from TV critics. It’s “too bland to elicit very strong feelings” and could use “a little more meat.” It earned the most cutting phrase a reviewer can write: It’s “moderately enjoyable.”
I mean, there’s a character named Louis Litt who likes to shout, “You just got Litt up!”
Most people would prefer to discuss “Mad Men” at a cocktail party instead of “Suits,” because many are embarrassed to like something so … simple. There’s nothing difficult about “Suits,” so there’s nothing impressive about liking it.
We live in an age when misery is fed to us constantly through screens both big and small. Addictive apps feed us endless 15-second-clips of war and political dysfunction and police brutality alongside cooking tutorials and comedy sketches and clips of puppies dressed like humans. It’s a cocktail of cortisol and dopamine that is getting us drunk on extremes.
“Suits” requires little from you, and you require little from it. It’s like a mug of warm tea, in that way: inoffensive, soothing, guiltless.
I’ll have another cup.