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TV reviews: 'Suits,' 'Necessary Roughness' on USA

USA Network adds to its character-rich roster with the appealing premieres of a legal drama ('Suits') and a comic drama centering on a multitasking therapist ('Necessary Roughness').

June 23, 2011|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Gabriel Macht stars in "Suits."
Gabriel Macht stars in "Suits." (David Giesbrecht / USA Network )

USA Network has come a long way, slowly, from the days when its main contribution to the culture was "Night Flight," an omnibus of music videos, reruns and camp ephemera that kept insomniac kids company back in the 1990s. Now it is the network that "Monk" made, with a small but strong-for-its-size roster of comicdramas that play nice turns on the old big genres — cops and spies and lawyers and doctors: "In Plain Sight," "Burn Notice," "White Collar," "Psych," "Fairly Legal," "Royal Pains." I am on board with most of them and can see the appeal even of the ones I don't particularly like.

I don't believe I'm using a more forgiving yardstick just because this is economy-class basic cable. (That argument doesn't really work, post- "Mad Men.") The network's "Characters Welcome" slogan describes as much a strategy as a brand: Its shows are for the most part solidly constructed, but where holes exist or the structure is creaky, they are shored up by the charm of their always well-cast players. Two new series bowing this week and next exemplify the house style; both are impressive out of the gate.

In the legal drama "Suits," which premieres Thursday, Patrick J. Adams plays Mike Ross, an unsettled young man with a photographic memory who has been making a small living taking tests for people less gifted. In need of fast money to keep his granny in her nursing home, he agrees to deliver a package for a pot-dealing friend and, after a series of causes and effects, ends up instead with a job at a high-powered Manhattan law firm. (Though he never went to law school, he independently passed the bar.)

It soon becomes apparent that Mike's amazing memory, which within the USA universe recalls Adrian Monk's pathological awareness of small details, will not be made too much of. Fundamentally, it's just a device to put him into a job he wouldn't otherwise have, to create an un-lawyerly lawyer. The real point of the show is Mike's pairing with sharky superior Harvey (Gabriel Macht), the yang to his yin, Harvey being a stylish self-centered tactician with a nose for human weakness, and Mike being a warm-hearted naif who doesn't know his inseam (he guesses it's "medium") and hugs the clients. ("I'm a grown man!" he finds it necessary to insist at one point, after being called "a kid.") He also insists, and we are to believe, as well, that Harvey is not as cold all that. Together they make one whole attorney.

In "Necessary Roughness," which begins June 29, Callie Thorne — sigh — also finds herself in a new job. A multitasking therapist, wife and mother — "My specialties include chicken parmesan, cognitive behavior therapies, hypnotherapy and kicking patients' butts" — Thorne's Dr. Dani Santino discovers early in the pilot episode that her husband has been unfaithful. She throws him out, commences a contentious divorce, and having cured a one-night-stand (Marc Blucas) of smoking, is hired by the football team he works for to help an underperforming self-destructive wide receiver (Mehcad Brooks). But there will be more heads to shrink than his at the New York Hawks.

Thorne ("Homicide: Life on the Street," "Rescue Me") is at the center of the action all through the pilot — every other character is defined by her relationship to them — and though I have always admired her work and presence, I can't remember her ever getting to play a part from so many angles, in so many tones. It makes the single hour I've seen feel particularly rich and busy, though never less than completely integrated. (Her scenes with Brooks, with Hannah Marks as her difficult teenage daughter, and with Scott Cohen as the team's broody fixer all stand out, and casting the sympathetic Craig Bierko as her unsympathetic husband keeps that relationship richer than it otherwise might be.) Only Julianna Margulies on "The Good Wife" is carrying a comparable load, and though "Roughness" is a more fanciful construction than that CBS show, with more obvious emotional victories, it feels just as honest. It worked on me as intended.

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