TORONTO – While summer television is often considered light by many viewers, for a TV critic it is one of the busiest times of the year as there are hundreds of new pilots to screen before the Fall in an attempt to decipher which ones will work and which ones will bomb.
With that being said, most are a dime a dozen. It’s rare when one completely captures your attention but that is exactly what happened when I screened Suits, which premieres tonight at 10 p.m. after the season premiere of Burn Notice on USA. I have always been a sucker for legal drama/comedy hybrids. I loved Ally McBeal, Murder One, The Practice, and Boston Legal. In fact, when I was a kid, I would often pretend that Matlock was actually called Murtzlock (a truly sad confession, I now realize).
That’s why I wasn’t expecting much when I sat down to watch Suits, in preparation for the upcoming set visit USA had arranged. And to be completely honest, I am glad that I went in with a jaded perspective, because I was completely enraptured by the program.
The show is about a hotshot Manhattan attorney, Harvey Specter, (played brilliantly by Gabriel Macht) hiring Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams), a savant college dropout as his summer associate. As Ross becomes increasingly entrenched in working with Harvey at a top New York firm, he begins to rely more heavily on the firm’s top paralegal Rachel (Meghan Markle) and Harvey’s assistant Donna (Sarah Rafferty) to pull off the guise of him actually being a lawyer.
While I am still in the process of going through all of the new Fall screeners, there is no doubt that Suits is my favorite. The 90-minute premiere episode was one of the best pilots I have ever seen, effortlessly getting through the backstory of Mike dropping out of college and considering a career in narcotic distribution before accidentally running into Harvey and his life changing forever.
It’s almost like a cooler Boston Legal, earmarked for a younger generation. What I really like about the show is the mentorship aspect. While it is difficult to understand how Harvey truly feels about any situation, it is easy to see how much of himself he sees in his protégé.
A few weeks ago, the USA Network invited online journalists to visit the set of Suits. While most were flown in, because the sets were in Toronto it was just a short drive over for me.
Murtz At Mike Ross’ desk
Things opened with a panel discussion with the show’s cast. The show’s executive producer, Doug Liman, also took part and I asked him when he knew that the electricity between Macht’s portrayal of Harvey and Adams’ interpretation of Mike was off the charts.
“You know, it doesn’t always happen on day one. Like it wasn’t, and that’s one of the things where we just became more and more surprised by how great the chemistry was,” Liman said. “Like I would say it was good at the beginning and just got better and better and better. And by the way, continues to get better. Like, you know, it’s-, you’re not supposed to say it but like episode two, in my opinion, is better than the pilot.”
Liman who has worked on Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Swingers, Go and produced Kissing Jessica Stein, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum admitted that he hasn’t been able to attend the chemistry reads for many of his projects. In one of the more interesting moments of the day, he said that he wasn’t even sure if Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie would work well together.
“You know, Mr. & Mrs. Smith was a massive roll of the dice. Because of Brad and Angie’s schedule, I literally never even got them into the same room until the first day of the shoot,” he said.
Suits Episodic Photo
Obviously it worked out for the pair who are now married, just like it did in the cast of Macht and Adams, although Liman admitted that working together for the last few months is clearly what helped each actor find their rhythm.
“But you can’t-, there is no, there’s no trick and it doesn’t always happen. It hasn’t happened in every one of my TV shows. I mean, for their chemistry that’s really hitting now, it’s months of working together,” he said.
Murtz Walking Through The Set Of Suits
The criticism that the show will face is obviously the same misconception that I had when I initially heard about the plotline. Namely, that it is just another show about lawyers. After screening tonight’s pilot episode, however, it really is about Harvey and Mike’s relationship and, as a result, the electricity that Gabriel Macht and Patrick J. Adams shared.
At the panel discussion, I asked Macht if the show was just another legal drama or an examination of Harvey’s relationship with Mike.
Writers Pose With Gabriel Macht
“I think that it’s in the guise of a legal drama but it’s all about the relationships and how everyone’s dealing with each other,” he said. “And obviously we see each character develop into more even three dimensional characters from the pilot. But like I just think that that’s a huge thing, when you get a great ensemble that have a great rapport, there’s something that, you know, the dynamic just is [and] you’re off and running,” Macht said.
The actor went onto talk about how USA is good at not only redefining characters as their tagline suggests, but also how it is redefining the procedural drama.
“And just to get back to the point, it’s like I think what USA does well is that they are sort of like ‘this is a procedural show’ but it doesn’t feel like that when you’re watching it, it feels more about like, ‘oh, what are these guys doing to each other and what’s going on between the dynamic of these two characters’ or something,” he said.
In addition to the show’s primarily storyline of Harvey mentoring him, there are other delicious subplots as well. Rick Hoffman’s Louis Litt serves as the show’s primary antagonist, keen on making partner in the firm. Meghan Markle’s Rachel Zane and Gina Torres’ Jessica Pearson serve as potential romantic interests for the show’s two protagonists. And then there’s Harvey’s assistant Donna, played perfectly by Sarah Rafferty. She’s part love interest, part sarcastic fembot and part badass bitch. The result is a character that pops off the screen. I asked Rafferty about Donna’s relationship with her boss and if there will be any fireworks between the pair.
“I think Harvey is the type of guy, who has a romantic tension with everybody,” she said. I think in the pilot I mean he has it with the waitress, right away, two seconds in. I think that if there is a romantic tension with Donna, if there’s like a Moneypenny thing going on, and I think there might be, I think it’s really safe and playful, it’s a way that they just play with each other. Obviously those things sometimes can get confusing and, who knows, maybe Donna feels it a little bit… sometimes feels it… but she’s such a player…”
When I asked her if Donna was the female Harvey, she didn’t disagree.
“I think she could be,” she said. “I think that’s why he picked her to be his assistant.”
Suits Episodic Photo
After the interviews, we were given a tour of the set. I got to pose at Mike Ross’ cubicle, walk around in the firm’s boardroom and catch a peek while Gina Torres went over lines before shooting a scene in an upcoming episode.
For a long time, especially here at Inside Pulse, I looked at the USA Network as simply being the home of the WWE and Monday Night RAW. While wrestling has a lot to do with why it is the #1 cable network, I think it is their increased focus on drama that has been largely responsible for introducing a new audience to the channel. With shows like Burn Notice, Covert Affairs (stay tuned for my Covert on-set visit when I was hanging out with one of my favorites Piper Perabo), and now Suits, the network really has some of the best programming around. In addition, USA is the first to start catering to its online audience which is quite a progressive perspective.
Over the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to visit many sets and it really never gets old. Seeing the number of background staff, the cast warming up before a scene and the shattered dream that the enormous office you thought was on the top floor of a tall New York skyscraper is just a simple stage shot to make it look massive never gets old. It is the magic of television I guess.
With that being said, if you have ever trusted my opinion about television, take my word for it. This is a show worth checking out.
Watch Suits tonight at 10 p.m. on USA.
Tags: murtz, Suits, USA