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