August 17th 2023 and the Guardian ran an article entitled ‘How did Suits become America’s most-watched TV show of the summer?’ Good question. The series’ arrival on Netflix in June 2023 had passed unnoticed in my household and it wasn’t until the end of the summer that my curiosity was piqued by reports that it had ‘(T)opped the Nielsen streaming charts for the last month, and broke(n) records for Netflix as its most-watched acquired title in a given week’ while accounting for ’18bn minutes of viewing on streamers in the month of July’ which coincided with a ‘record-low viewing for linear and cable TV’ (less than 50% of all TV usage). With ‘nothing to watch’ after the summer break (like having ‘nothing to wear’ this itself is a contradiction in terms), I re-read the Guardian article and found myself gravitating towards Suits. I could say that, as a good TV scholar, my research question was to discern whether this series really was ‘emblematic of USA’s “blue sky” era’ and whether a legal series that began in 2011 had any value. But frankly, I just wanted to see Meghan Markle pre-Prince Harry days to see whether she really could actually act.
To be clear, I thought I would watch a few episodes, maybe get to the end of season 1 and turn my back on Suits in favour of much lauded shows like Slow Horses (Apple TV+, 2022-) or the latest series of Fargo (Hulu, 2023-) – I never expected to become addicted in the way I did and now, having reached the end of season 5, thought I would reflect on just what it is about Suits that I find so compelling.
- Even though the series is shot in Toronto it takes place in New York, and the city has never looked so good. Anyone who has visited the Big Apple recently will attest to the fact that, resplendent with weed shops on practically every corner, it is downright dingy and dirty. It is as exciting as ever but the city featured in Suits is just gorgeous. Regular sweeping drone shots of a New York skyline where it never rains, golden glinting shiny buildings and never-ending sunny avenues are not the New York that I know and love. Suits is shot like a true love story to the Big Apple and I, for one, revel in how damn good it looks.
- Everyone is so smart and sassy. Look, I know that Suits could be considered a ‘poor (wo)man’s Mad Men (AMC, 2007-15). Harvey Spector (Gabriel Macht) is clearly an updated Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Donna Paulsen (Sarah Rafferty) a modern incarnation of Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks); but Don and Joan, stuck in the 60s, were never allowed to be as sassy as Harvey and Donna and there was no way that Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres) would have ever made it past secretary, let alone get to managing partner. Remember how hard it was for Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss) to get out of the photocopier room and into the male-dominated world of copy-writing and how poor Joan got unceremoniously dumped from reading TV scripts once the men realized that television sponsorship was the future of advertising?
- Everyone looks fabulous. If you ever wanted a show where the cast look like they have just stepped out of a glossy magazine, this is it. The men all wear dapper suits (hence the name) and the women parade in their sleek, business clothes. Pencil skirts and high heels are back and, good grief, don’t these women know how to rock them. As Jessica tartly points out to a young Harvey, ‘I never wear the same outfit twice’ – Suits offers us a fashion parade equaling that of Sex and the City (HBO, 1998-2004), And Just Like That … (HBO, 2021-) and Emily in Paris (Netflix, 2020-).
- I (at last) learned how-to walk-in killer heels thanks to Donna and Jessica, arms swinging, hips swaying, powerful women owning the space – Rather than my usual high heeled style.
- Despite the fact that all the action takes place in a cut-throat corporate world where greed rules and money is king, where power struggles happen daily and everyone has to watch their back, Pearson, Spector and Litt is a ‘family’. Just like a family, people argue, disagree and flounce but everyone gets to speak their truth. Having worked in many offices where battle lines are continually drawn and then re-drawn, conversations take place behind doors and management always win, Suits is refreshing. Even Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman) learns where his loyalties lie. A lesson that many people I have worked with could benefit from.
These are just five of the reasons that I love Suits. I could go on. Suffice to say, it has become another of my not guilty pleasures.
To return to the question – why is everyone still watching Suits? My thoughts are that, much like the popularity of the Hollywood musical of the 1930s – used as a respite from a depression-ridden life, our contemporary world needs light entertainment. In an atmosphere where we are torn apart by wars, climate change, political turmoil, out of control inflation, racism and sexism (to name but a few of the ravages of the 21st century), Suits is a feel-good series. To return to the idea of the ‘USA’s “blue sky” era’ it is perfect for today’s television viewers with its ‘overall sense of lightness, in feeling and in design.’ We know that good will win. There is not an anti-hero to be seen, women are as powerful as men and there is no death and destruction. The series is definitely a glossy, melodramatic, soapy fantasy world but it is one that we sorely need in these desperate times. As critic Alan Sepinwall points out ‘Suits once again demonstrates the persistent audience demand for a genre of shows that streaming services refuse to make, or make well.’
And, just for the record, the general consensus is that Megan Markle can act. Much like Grace Kelly before her, Markle’s career might well have been a success – had she not married a Prince.
Kim Akass, PhD, is Professor of Radio, Television and Film at Rowan University. She is one of the founding editors of the television journal Critical Studies in Television: The International Journal of Television Studies (SAGE), managing editor of the website CSTonline as well as (with McCabe) series editor of the ‘Reading Contemporary Television’ for IB Tauris. Her book Mothers on American Television: From Here to Maternity was published by Manchester University Press in 2023. For the record, she is watching the latest season of Fargo although she is yet to delve into Slow Horses.