Katherine Heigl's 'Suits' Is Television's Funniest Legal Comedy For Lawyers
I know that there’s this thing among professionals, where they often do not like to watch shows about their own professions, because those shows so often get their professions wrong. Some doctors may not like to watch Grey’s Anatomy, for instance, because they might not be able to hear the TV over their own screams of outrage. “NO! THAT’S NOT HOW THAT WORKS.” Maybe accountants hate Stranger than Fiction because Will Ferrell makes for a terrible accountant (although who cares, that movie is amazing, and you should overlook whatever mistakes he might make in his profession).
This is a particularly dicey thing for lawyers (and doctors), because there are a lot of legal shows, and very few of them — outside the OG Law & Order — have a firm grasp of the law (I also thought that David Kelley’s The Practice understood the law, at least in its essence). How to Get Away with Murder, for instance, was one of those shows that I couldn’t bear to watch because it was set in a law school, and clearly no one who wrote for that show had ever been inside a law school or had ever spoken to a law student.
No offender, however, is as egregious as USA Network’s Suits from week to week. I write about this fairly often, because I am fascinated with how poorly anyone involved in that show understands the legal profession. However, rather than it annoying me, I find it to be maybe the biggest feature of the show (besides Donna Paulson, of course). It’s spectacularly hilarious, and exactly the kind of legal show one might expect from a Wall Street guy — creator Aaron Korsh is a former investment banker who has created a law firm that feels as though it may be modeled after an investment bank. I don’t know how investment banking works (which is why I shouldn’t write a show about investment banks), but based on Suits, I suspect it means that investment bankers engage in cutthroat competition with people within their own offices rather than with other firms.
Indeed, Suits is less a legal show than Game of Thrones set in a law firm. It’s rarely about beating the other guy, it’s about becoming a named partner and — even bigger — the managing partner, nevermind that managing partners are rarely “named partners.” In fact, this entire half season of Suits — 10 episodes of television — have been about one thing: Which new lawyer in the firm — Alex (Dule Hill) or Samantha (Katherine Heigl) — can get their name on the door first.
But this is not how law firms work. Law firms are typically named after their founding partners, and they rarely — if ever — change their names, unless it’s to rebrand after a scandal. Hamlin, Hamlin and McGill on Better Call Saul, for instance, is still Hamlin, Hamlin and McGill, even though one of the Hamlins and the McGill is dead. If Kim had stayed there for many years, she could have become a partner, but it never would have been Hamlin, Hamlin, McGill and Wexler, because that’s not how law firms work. No one has apparently even bothered with a cursory Google search on Suits.
And this week’s season finale of Suits: Woo boy. After a back and forth competition all season long between Samantha and Alex, the managing partner Robert Zane (the fantastic Wendell Pierce) and the firm’s “Closer” (not a thing) Harvey Spector (Gabriel Macht) decide that it will all come down to one case, mano a mano.
On the one hand, this was great, because it might actually mean there may be a few courtroom scenes in a legal show, where I believe a judge has handed down a verdict only once in nine seasons, and that was a guilty verdict to Mike (Patrick Adams) for practicing with a fraudulently obtained law license (this was the original premise of the show. Mike had a photographic memory, and so he just memorized a bunch of legal books and called himself a lawyer, but after spending months in prison for impersonating a lawyer — a felony — Mike returned back to the practice of law, even though he still hasn’t actually gone to law school, though he did manage to convince an ethics board — through blackmail — to give him his law license back in spite of the fact that he’d never actually done anything to earn it. He now has his own firm in Seattle with Meghan Markle’s Rachel Zane, who somehow finished law school in one year at NYU while working a full-time job as a paralegal. You see why I love this show?).
OK, I’m getting off track, because listen: Here’s the best part. This mano a mano case was between two lawyers from the same firm representing clients from the same firm and Alex’s client was a former client of Samantha’s. But don’t worry! They just had to sign conflicts of interest forms, and Bob’s your uncle!
Pictured in those blue folders: Conflict of interest forms.
So, the case goes something like this. Samantha is representing an insurance company that doesn’t want to pay for an expensive piece of art that burned in a fire that Alex’s client (and Samantha’s former client) clearly set in order to collect the insurance money and ensure that another piece of art he owns from the same artist gains in value. Please don’t try to decipher the case, because it doesn’t really matter.
What matters is, on the first day, Alex wheels in a cart of discovery materials at 9:00 at night, and somehow managed to fast-track the trial to start the next morning without involving Samantha, the other party to the case. In other words, she’s finding out for the first time that her trial is going to start in 12 hours.
But fuck it! She’s had half a day to prepare, so she’s ready! So they show up the next morning, and they make their opening arguments, and then Alex turns to Samantha and says, “I guess you’re not big on foreplay,” and Samantha retorts, “I like foreplay just fine, Alex, but you’re right about one thing: You’re about to get fucked,” because restrictions on profanity have been lifted on cable, and Suits has been taking full advantage (upside: Wendell Pierce saying “mother fucker” five times a season).
But the courtroom stuff doesn’t matter, because it never matters in Suits, because the next day, Samantha shows up to the house of Alex’s client (YOU CAN’T DO THAT) and tells him she’s got his balls in a vice, and he begs her to give him one more day! And the client uses that one day to collect a bunch of ethical improprieties from Samantha’s past (of which the viewer is not privy) and hands them to Alex in a folder and demands that Alex threaten Samantha with disbarment. But Alex is like, “No! I’m not going to ruin her career over this!” and then he shows up in Samantha’s office the next morning with a stack of papers saying he’s won because of a document he found in discovery. What is the document? DON’T! DON’T FALL INTO THE SUITS TRAP BY ASKING QUESTIONS.
The point is, Alex won, so he gets his name on the wall! Except that Samantha demands that she have her name up too, even though she lost, because Robert owes her a favor because Samantha didn’t turn him into the feds years back when he skimmed $100,000 off the top in an embezzlement scheme that the FBI was investigating for some reason. So, in order to avoid a civil war in the firm, Donna — the former secretary turned CFO of the law firm — votes Louis in as the new managing partner, and he makes Alex and Samantha both named partners, so the law firm that was once “Pearson Hardman” is now “Specter, Zane, Litt, Williams & Wheeler,” one of the named partners is the managing partner, and the former secretary is running the whole firm from the shadows.
It’s the funniest goddamn legal show on TV, and I love it, and part of why I love it so much is because of how seriously the actors treat the material. Everything is said with stone-cold soberness. When Robert says, “Let’s get ready to rumble,” there’s no tongue in his cheek. It’s like sixth graders are writing the show, but seriously respectable actors are delivering the lines as though it were a Mamet play.
Wendell Pierce: “Are there any questions?”
Dule Hill: “I got one. Is it going to be ‘And Williams,’ or just ‘Zane, Spector, Litt, Williams?’
Katherine Heigl: “I can answer that. It’s not going to be either one.”
Dule Hill: “Then I guess we’ll just find out.”
Katherine Heigl: “Guess we will!”
Later in the episode, Heigl with a straight face: “No fair! You cheated!”
It. Is. Amazing. And it is also the highest-rated series on USA Network. I can only assume half of its audience is comprised of lawyers drunkenly hate-watching without a trace of animosity.
Header Image Source: USA Network
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