USA's Thursday Night Lineup Rivals Cable's Best Dramas
It's Thursday, and that means USA Network's two best currently running series have new episodes: "Burn Notice" and "Suits." Here are some thoughts on the shows, which you can watch beginning at 9 p.m. EST tonight.
Halfway through its sixth season, "Burn Notice" has got its mojo back after a couple of seasons in which it lost its way a bit. The great appeal of the show for me has always been the toughness of the central characters: "burned" former CIA agent Michael Weston, FBI informant Sam Axe, the demolition expert and former Irish terrorist Fiona Glenanne, and former spy Jesse Porter. I imagine that some of the improvement stems from the return of the show's creator, Matt Nix, after his move to Fox to produce the underrated comedy cop show "The Good Guys." It seems a plausible theory, anyway.
Whatever the reason, "Burn Notice" has got nicely back in stride this season. I am particularly pleased to see that Mike is back to his former intrepid and daring self, as opposed to the kind of whining baby he has been for the last couple of seasons. Sam and Jesse are always great, and having Fiona have to fight for her life in jail prevents more of those boring scenes from the past couple of years in which she nags Mike about their relationship.
It’s interesting, in fact, that Mike got his strength back only by being cut off from his paramour. I don't suppose that the producers intended to make a point by that (and I’m glad if they didn’t), but it’s interesting and reflects how some real-life relationships do in fact work.
"Suits," in its second season, is terrific and just gets better and better. The show stars Gabriel Macht as a superstar New York City lawyer and Patrick J. Adams as his legal associate, who happens to be a complete fraud. Well, nearly complete, anyway. Adams's character, Mike Ross, claims to have graduated from Harvard Law, when in fact he never went to college at all. But Ross is a genius who instantly remembers pretty much any fact he comes across. As such he is a great aid to Macht's character, Harvey Specter, who keeps Ross's secret—solely, Harvey says, because it benefits Harvey.
A good part of the appeal of "Suits" is Harvey's relentless, cold logic, brutal honesty and refusal to let sentiment stand in the way of getting what's best for his clients. "I am never wrong," Harvey likes to suggest, like John Dickson Carr's lawyer-detective Patrick Butler. Mike supplies the sentiment, and the conflicts between the two are an explicit exploration of character differences resembling those between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Through these interactions, "Suits" does quite a good job of showing just what stubborn things facts are and how morally neutral logic really is. In this way it indicates the need for human feeling, sympathy, and moral standards with great appeal and often subtlety.
Harvey’s complex blend of harsh logic and serious but somewhat repressed desire to do the right thing creates much drama and is rich in moral and psychological implications. Accordingly, this season's episodes have begun to dig into his past to indicate some of what makes up his personality and how it has affected him, which brings further drama and insight.
Moreover, Harvey's demand for complete honesty is shown as being not at all unreasonable: the breaking of that commandment is frequently the source of his clients' and coworkers' problems (Mike, most prominently) and led directly to catastrophe for a central character in last week’s dramatic climax. This latter event was quite tragic but necessary and true to life.
A more straightforwardly enjoyable element of "Suits" is the character of Louis Litt, one of the other top attorneys in the firm. Litt, played brilliantly by Rick Hoffman, is insecure, immature, manipulative, and emotionally vulnerable to a truly spectacular and tragicomic degree. In recent episodes Litt has seemed almost likable at times, but he quickly reverts to his true, appalling self. The characterization is brilliantly dramatic, comic and believable.
This year the producers have chosen to push Mike’s fraud story a bit farther into the background, and that is a very good decision, as the fraud plot is in my view the weakest thing about the show’s concept. It's both implausible and obviously unsustainable.
That, in fact, illustrates the downside of USA Network’s clever concepts: they tend to pale over time and distract from each episode’s real drama. But when its characters are most true to themselves, "Suits" is about as good as series television gets. And it is very good indeed.