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Applying to a Review of USA Network's "Suits" the Same Irrational Hatred Many Apply to Aaron Sorkin's "Newsroom"

By Dustin Rowles | TV Reviews | August 27, 2013 | Comments ()


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“I don’t know that I see any problem with anything [Aaron Sorkin] said in that quote.”

“You need to develop an irrational hatred of the man and look at it again.”

— An exchange between two commenters on a post about Aaron Sorkin.

I’ve been hanging on by a thread to Aaron Korsh’s USA Network drama, “Suits” through nearly three seasons of desultory television out of what I can only describe as a deep, unabiding hatred of myself. Every week I put myself through the torture of this series out of some bizarre, misguided obligation to be a part of the hate-conversation, and every week, I never fail to be disappointed by the simplistic storytelling, the out-of-touch pop-culture references, and the bleating monologues about the aspirational nature of the law, and the irritating ways in which dumb characters continue to do dumb things for little reason other than to service a plotline. Anyone that deigns to watch this show on a weekly basis is a bigger fool than Aaron Sorkin (except me, of course, because I watch it for different reasons than everyone else).

There’s a certain brazen audacity in Korsh’s approach to “Suits”: He takes pompous, egostical lawyers from a white-shoe law firm and tears them down with trivial narrative obstacles only to turn right around and have his daft characters overcome those obstacles with rousing, chest-thumping speeches that cater to our basest desires to see better looking wealthy people take down less attractive wealthy people. Harvey Specter may be one of the most smug characters on television, written by someone who is obviously an elitist windbag (before turning to television writing, Korsh attended the Wharton School of Business and was a successful investment banker, which — ipso facto — makes him a terrible person) but it’s all bluster without substance. There’s never anything to underpin Specter’s arguments except blind self-confidence.

The thing about “Suits,” too, is that it thinks it’s much smarter than it is. It creates weighty, self-important storylines about international CEO’s allegedly engaged in bribery schemes and murder plots, but they’re only a front for what’s really at stake in “Suits”: Shallow power grabs driven by greed and ego. Indeed, the major focus of season three is on Harvey Spector’s (Gabriel Macht) play to take down the managing partner of the firm because she had the nerve to merge their firm with another when financial circumstances dictated it.

However, underneath the braggadocio; the breezy, fast-moving plots; the romantic entanglements, and the lie that drives the premise, there’s a certain hollowness that the entire enterprise seems destined to collapse into. There’s nothing more infuriating than a show that undercuts the huge stakes involved with fast-banter, occasional wittiness, and flirtation. How are we supposed to take Harvey’s one-step-ahead secretary, Donna, seriously if she undermines every bold move by batting her eyelashes? And what about Rachel (Meghan Markle)? She’s a driven, ambitious paralegal presented as smarter and more quick-witted than most of the attorneys in the firm, but typical of a show from a guy who can’t write women, she’s also insecure, given to occasional bouts of weepiness when her heart is broken, and seemingly as interested in bedding Mike (Patrick J. Adams) as she is in furthering her career. The reason Rachel hasn’t been accepted into Harvard Law School is because she’s lousy at taking test, and yet it’s her romantic male counterpart whose test-taking skills are so superior that he managed to cheat his way into an associate position without attending law school. Also, he’s the noble one. Naturally, the only African American on this show, Gina Torres’ Jessica Pearson, is an unfeeling, power-hungry bitch driven by ambition rather than ideaology. Of late, her insistence on maintaing control of the firm she took over has made her the show’s villainess. A man in her same position would be celebrated.

And what of the show’s grasp of the law? It’s practically non-existent. Korsh seems to have an understanding of three legal terms — affidavit, deposition, and settlement — and he throws them around to mask his deep misunderstanding of how the legal system actually works. The show seems more intent on playing in the squishy areas of human nature — love, morality, a sense of justice, and friendship — than in getting the law right. Has anyone on this show ever sat in on a settlement conference? There’s a lot more involved than pulling smoking gun documents out of manilla folders and delivering ultimatums.

Moreover, Korsh only seems to have a passing familiarity with contemporary pop culture, and he shoehorns obvious movie references (“Royale with Cheese,” “Shiieeeet”) into random scenes like screenwriters with little understanding of the Internet toss around words like “YouTube” and “Skype” as punchlines to jokes with no setup. Every time he drops a movie reference, it only reinforces how out of touch he really is.

The biggest problem with “Suits,” however, is that it’s a show that wants it both ways. It wants to be about law firm politics, about toppling leaders — “Game of Thrones” set in a law firm, only instead of guillotines and swords, “Suits” applies heavy-handed threats — but it also wants to be a light, breezy show about office romance, about attractive people struggling to balance their careers and their sex lives. It can’t do both, and be believable as either. How can we take an aspiring managing partner seriously if he’s employing can openers into pre-trial rituals? “Suits” has to pick a lane, and it might go a long way to improving the show if Korsh dropped the chip off his own shoulder and allowed his characters some humblness for more than five minutes in the middle of each goddamn episode.

(Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. In reality, while he concedes their many flaws, he is an avowed fan of both “The Newsroom” and “Suits.”




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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • BizzyBzz

    LOUIS LITT. CAT LOVER. That is all.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    MUD CONNOISSEUR.

    ARBITER OF STEAK.

    KEEPER OF THE ASSOCIATES.

  • BizzyBzz

    And let us not forget,

    RASPBERRY BRAN BAR GLUTTON.

    UNIBALL IDOLIZER.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    Do we have them all? Nothing else is coming to my mind. Maybe something with opera?

  • 0ur0boros

    I don't get The Newsroom hate. I love it. I think I just wish that there was an actual media outlet that seemed to have the passion, ideals, and backbone that this fictional newsroom has.

  • cgthegeek

    He takes pompous, egostical lawyers from a white-shoe law firm and tears them down with trivial narrative obstacles only to turn right around and have his daft characters overcome those obstacles with rousing, chest-thumping speeches that cater to our basest desires to see better looking wealthy people take down less attractive wealthy people.

    Replace lawyers with ad execs and you've got a great synopsis for Mad Men. It doesn't do this every ep, but you know Don or Peggy's gonna pull something together at the end.

  • Dude, let it go. Most of us stopped hating on "The Newsroom" ages ago... We just ignore it now. No big whoop.

  • Down-votes huh. I'm going back to trolling Community season 4 posts. Fuck this.

  • freetickles

    You forgot to add "bad faith" to the list of legal jargon he throws around every week. Bad faith seems to be the "gotcha" in 75% of the cases on the show, and yet is never relevant IRL after your first semester of law school.

    Korsh and the other writers have also obviously never spent five minutes inside a law firm and have no idea how any of it works.

    All that said, and I agree with Dustin's rant, the show is entertaining as hell and I love-hate it every week.

  • Fredo

    Except that this show isn't worth the bile.

  • AudioSuede

    I want to kiss this review like it's my first time and whisper sweet nothings while we collapse together onto a soft futon.

  • thetyrianshade

    I think one of the issues is that The Newsroom is on HBO and people adjusted their expectations accordingly expecting a darker more complex story. This wilfully ignored the more cheesy sensibilities of Sorkin's previous efforts which combined with the HBO and the general antipathy felt towards the media led to a backlash when it turned out to be the show it was.

  • AudioSuede

    Yeah, I think other than the ability to swear and the freedom (though apparently he has not taken advantage of said freedom) to show nudity, choosing HBO for a Sorkin show was probably the wrong call. His style works better when he's elevating the network he's writing on, like when he made NBC look amazing with The West Wing before they cut his legs off with Studio 60.

  • Artemis

    I think this would work better if there was anyone at all who thought Suits was a Seriously Good Drama. If Sorkin was making shows on USA that ran during the summer and never promised anything except light breezy fun, I doubt they would attract much hate. The problem with The Newsroom is that it's a USA show that inexplicably made its way onto HBO and is clearly trying to be much better than it is.

  • AudioSuede

    Are shows not supposed to try to be better than they are? Is that a bad thing now?

  • Artemis

    Of course shows should try to be good. But there shouldn't be such a visible gap between how hard they're trying and how much they're succeeding.

    When you're making the equivalent of a Suits or Burn Notice but are obviously trying to make a Mad Men or Breaking Bad (and are being promoted as though you're the latter), you're going to get a lot of flak about not being good enough. Whereas Chicago Fire or Supernatural, shows that are not Great Television but are good at what they're doing, get approximately zero angry articles written about them on the internet.

  • AudioSuede

    Well, I think there's a perception problem there, because Sorkin has never made a Mad Men or Breaking Bad. Most of the reviews I read of The Newsroom are comparing it to shows which are completely different; the fast-talking, idealistic, occasionally cheesy style could never fit in with a darker, heavier drama like Breaking Bad. And yet people write and talk about it like the only kind of show that can be valid is one of strict realism or darkness, and that, to me, is a problem with the viewers, not with the shows themselves. Sorkin is trying to make the best show he can make in his own style, and sometimes he falters, but sometimes he soars. He's already had two amazing episodes this season, and yet all anyone says is that it's not nearly as good as _____________ (other show).

    Though, to top all of that, The Newsroom has much better writing than Suits or Burn Notice, and it's not stylistically like those shows either, so it's an unfair and inaccurate comparison.

  • Artemis

    I use Mad Men and Breaking Bad as comparisons because they're two currently airing shows that most people would agree have excellent writing. You're right that they're both dark, but that's just because that's been the trend in dramas over the past little while -- I'm not trying to say that The Newsroom needs to be like them, either stylistically or in tone. But it was billed as this serious, complex exploration of the media's role in America today, and I don't think it's remotely living up to what it promised.

    (That said, I strongly disagree that The Newsroom is, or wants to be, an idealistic show. There was a Pajiba post about this a little ways back, but part of what makes the show off-putting for a lot of people is how far it is from Sorkin's Sports Night/American President/West Wing optimism, and how downright mean it seems a lot of the time. I think it would actually be a far better show if it was basically Sports-Night-does-the-news: fun with a side of drama rather than the other way around.)

    And while I'll grant you that The Newsroom is better than Suits or Burn Notice, I honestly think the writing is closer in quality to those shows than it is to any of the really good shows on television right now. This week's episode was the first I found at all engaging, and for me it was still way short of "amazing" (because of, among other things, the hacky Deep Throat revenge plot, beating the audience over the head with the shot-clock set-up, and the utter cop-out ending).

  • Gina Torres is not the only African American on the show. Her skin is much lighter than Torres's but Megan Markle and her character both have one African American parent.

  • cgthegeek

    The women are really the only reason I watch this show. I could give two shits about Harvey and whatever the fake lawyer's name is.

  • Sarah

    me too! the women (Rachel aside) and Louis!

    about Jessica: "[...] is an unfeeling, power-hungry bitch driven by ambition rather than ideology. Of late, her insistence on maintaing control of the firm she took over has made her the show’s villainess. A man in her same position would be celebrated "

    I don't see her that way, at all. The most part of the show characters is like that. Every week factions and alliance change, she's no villain 'cos everyone could be a potential villain for anybody giving the chance in the following episode. And in a world where professional ambition is everything, she's presented as one of the stronger and more successful character, even more successful than Harvey. He is brillant, but more than a time Jessica's decisions have been proven to be better in the long-run.
    Plus, she's a successful woman over 40s who has chosen career over family and is not shamed for it; very few shows around have similar female characters.

  • Orleanas

    Interesting. I used to like the Donna character but so far from what I've seen this season, Donna is taking herself a little too seriously. The actress is trying too hard to make her character seem so witty, sexy, and hardcore than the character really is that I'm over Donna.

    Markle's character (Rachel) is just annoying, and I've felt that way about her from jump. I don't understand what Mike sees in her that makes her the woman for him. Markle is also the least talented actor on the show, and that's saying a lot. Lastly, I find it unrealistic that she's able to dress as she does on a paralegal's salary. I know she comes from money, but since she's trying to hide that, I don't understand why she would dress in a way that would make others question how she can afford her clothes with the salary she earns at the firm.

    In all, I think all the female's clothing are too tight. It's one thing to be fashionable and sexy, but again, the show is trying too hard in trying to showcase these women as sophisticated and "powerful" by dressing them in the way that they are.

    All these little things are making me lose my love of the show.

  • Camryn

    I always wondered if people weren't supposed to know that Rachel (and, I guess by extension, Megan Markle) is a black woman...

  • I think that was the case a first but her father is black and played a big enough role in a plot line that all of the regular characters probably know now and Rachel rarely interacts with anyone outside of the law firm.

  • cgthegeek

    You should have seen the shitstorm in the fandom when her Black father showed up. "OMG Rachel used to be my favorite character, but now....!"

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    That just sort of confuses me because, whatever someone might have speculated her ethnicity as being before her father showed up, she was pretty clearly not a white chick. Are there racists who are only racist against black people? Because somehow that seems more fucked up than just generally being a racist.

  • Berry

    Really? That's depressing. But I guess that after the Rue debacle something like that shouldn't surprise even an out of touch non-American like myself, but still...

  • Guest

    That photo of Sarah Rafferty almost makes me want to watch, but then no.

  • Cara

    The show is worth watching just for her :) Not that I don't like the show in general, but the moments with Donna tend to be the best ones!

  • maryannaweinreb

    мy coυѕιɴ ιѕ мαĸιɴɢ $51/нoυr oɴlιɴe. υɴeмployed ғor α coυple oғ yeαrѕ αɴd prevιoυѕ yeαr ѕнe ɢoт α $1З619cнecĸ wιтн oɴlιɴe joв ғor α coυple oғ dαyѕ. ѕee мore αт...­ ­ViewMore----------------------...

    I don't get The Newsroom hate. I love it. I think I just wish that there was an actual media outlet that seemed to have the passion, ideals, and backbone that this fictional newsroom has.

  • Guest

    Thanks Cara. I have made several attempts at watching the show (mostly because of my Fringe crush on Megan Markle) but have never gotten into it.

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