Suits bills itself as a look at the high-powered legal elite, and even though the central premise isn’t remotely realistic (a non-lawyer who practices law under the pretense of having attended Harvard Law School and whose mentor racks up legal victories using tactics culled from The Apprentice), it’s sort of fun to imagine that it could be. “Everybody wanna know how it feels/Everybody wanna see what it’s like,” goes the lyrics to the opening credits. The men wear suits, as the show’s title suggests, and the women all wear stilettos. They stride purposefully down brightly lit hallways, trailed by pop music and intensely or wittily conversing as the camera swings energetically around them. Scene shifts take the form of vertiginous sweeps of the New York skyline, which, in this world, consists entirely of glassy office buildings.
The first two seasons of Suits, when the writing hovered precariously between smart and clichéd, provided a witty, if safe, hour of basic-cable drama. But either the showrunners’ strategy has changed in season three, or the writer responsible for the spoonful of episodic intellect went on extended hiatus. Regardless, we quickly find ourselves tumbling headfirst into a live-action comic book populated with caricatures. Character motivations make sense only with the help of a scorecard, with Mike (Patrick J. Adams), temporarily estranged from his boss, Harvey (Gabriel Macht), deciding to stop “living a lie” and actually attend law school, but then inexplicably opting to stay at the firm in order to get back into Harvey’s good graces. Subplots veer into juvenilia: Harvey’s rival, Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman), having persuaded Mike to be his assistant, comes marching into his office holding a cake that reads, “Welcome to Team Litt,” only to find Harvey and Mike miraculously reconciled, and throws the cake in the garbage. And plot twists move into the realm of the frankly unbelievable, with a ruthless oil baroness accused of murder convincing Mike and Harvey of her innocence by breaking down in tears during a trial deposition, their change of heart going unquestioned for the remainder of the storyline.
The characters, many of who were funny and occasionally unpredictable, have been flattened out through the relentless imposition of trite dialogue. Mike, whose quirky humor and reactive moralism balanced out Harvey’s apparent callousness in the first two seasons, has turned into an expressionless banterer, whom another character accurately labels a “mini-me” of his mentor. Harvey’s assistant, Donna (Sarah Rafferty), who used to be a shrewd player of office politics, has transformed into a oversexed automaton, punctuating every sentence with a reassuring self-identifier (“because I’m Donna”) and engaging in an affair so turgid that the two lovers resort to double entendres over a copy machine. And the least over-determined—and consequently most interesting—character, Mike’s quick-witted and shakily confident girlfriend, Rachel (Meghan Markle), is relegated, by her own cheerful admission, to playing Mike to Mike’s Harvey.
The legal maneuvering for control of the firm remains engrossing, Hoffman’s Litt takes gleeful pride in his neuroticism (at one point professing Jack Nicholson’s obsessive-compulsive antihero in As Good As It Gets as his role model), and occasionally a sharply written exchange surfaces (“We’re at a funeral and you’re quoting Highlander?”). But these moments are outnumbered by scenes that seem to have been written on autopilot; Suits’s semi-smart, buoyant originality has been largely replaced with predictable dialogue and broadly painted personality types.