It’s summer holiday season in America, so Harvey Specter and Mike Ross are down in Florida working on their tans. They deserve a break – Specter’s hair will need a full de-grease, and Ross’ bicycle is due a service. The show is now five seasons old, and has progressed steadily from a gawky junior associate to senior partner in that time, existing a parallel universe New York with a never-ending supply of rich, arrogant opponents who’ve left the tiniest hole in their fiendish plans.
It’s as good a pure episodic show as is screening anywhere right now – a slick, wisecracking and hyper-engaging legal procedural which is both utterly ridiculous and ridiculously charming. But it’s over now until the new year. So where does that leave us poor plaintiffs down in New Zealand? Who will defend us against boredom on a chilly Monday night? Lightbox remains the best place to turn through this drought, so if you have a Suits-shaped hole in your TV wardrobe, here are some well-tailored alternatives.
1. Like watching brainiac lawyers do battle? Try The Good Wife.
There’s something deeply exhilarating about the way law is practised in America. Or, on American television, at least. All subterfuge, power moves, and leverage, leverage, leverage. The actual law itself barely comes into it. The Good Wife has a similar dynamic to Suits – a junior lawyer starts, with ropey experience offset by extraordinary skill – but it concentrates on the intersection of law, politics and, increasingly, technology. The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum called it “the smartest drama currently on air”, an opinion shared by everyone from the Guardian to Buzzfeed. It’s a more cerebral show, but has many of the same elements which make Suits so satisfying.
2. Like the quasi father-son dynamic between Specter and Ross? Try Breaking Bad.
There are many ways to watch Breaking Bad. An action-thriller, a portrait of mental disintegration, a parable for the futility of the war on drugs. But the relationship between Walt and Jesse is also a study in mentorship. It doesn’t end well – or start well, really – but their prickly chemistry and the persistent travails of their relationship are one of the most compelling parts of the show. So if you watch Suits as a buddy dramedy then take a good deep hit of Breaking Bad.
3. Like sharp suits and boardroom drama? Try Mad Men.
The early episodes of Suits are peppered with references to Specter’s ridiculously expensive suiting – and Ross’ cheap, flammable alternatives. No show uses clothing as compellingly and with as much communicative power as the ’60s ad agency drama Mad Men. It not only shows the motion of fashion, but also the waxing and waning of individuals and generations – Don commences as the young thruster and ends as a man unsure of his relationship to the culture. We watch as his block colours and slender lapels define him against Roger Sterling’s pinstripes, before eventually being swamped by the garish patterns and bulbous silhouettes of Peggy’s generation. It’s the ageing process and the remorseless progress of capitalism through a garment.
4. Like a swift resolution? Try Luther.
The episodic style – where a problem presents and is resolved within a single episode – used to be by far the most dominant variety of television. Season-arching narratives were far rarer beasts. That feels like it has reversed lately, to the point where prestige serials are the norm, and contained narratives an endangered species. Suits runs against that trend, giving us a different problem each week and tying up the loose ends by the time the credits roll. There is a third way, combining the best of both worlds, as pioneered by The X Files, and epitomised by both The Good Wife and Luther. The latter follows a brilliant but dysfunctional London detective through his work on grisly, often shocking murders – a much darker and more gritty backdrop than the monied Manhattan of Suits, though just as compelling.
5. Like Suits, but wish it was a little crazier? Try Damages.
One of the most mystifyingly neglected series of recent times, Damages has an incredible cast – Glenn Close, Rose Byrne and Ted Danson – and a brilliantly unhinged plot. Set in a similar firm to Suits’ Pearson Hardman, Damages operates out of a private practise dominated by the brilliant but quite mad Patty Hewes (a bunny-boilingly single-minded Close). She adopts Ellen Parsons (Byrne; vulnerable yet tough), a young associate, and sets about at first moulding her, then tearing her apart. The writing is brilliant, particularly across the first two seasons, and the structural conceit which slowly reveals fragments of a season’s ending throughout the run gives the show a sense of abiding dread throughout.