Photo of part of the cast of Suits.

The secret to Suits’ success? It gives us the nothing we so desperately crave

It was announced that Suits, the legal drama of Meghan Markle’s fame, was the most-streamed show of 2023. Last year, it was watched for a total of 57.7 billion minutes on Netflix, beating The Office’s previous record of 57.1 billion minutes in 2020. This data leaves us with only one question: how did a show that seems so bland become such a sensation?

The first episode of Suits aired in January 2012 in the UK and enjoyed middling success. It ended quietly in 2019, according to its showrunners, because of Meghan Markle’s decision to join the Royal Family. Explaining why Markle didn’t make a cameo in the latter series, the final series’ director Aaron Korsh told Deadline “I didn’t ask, and I just thought, I’m going to respect her new life and not put her in the position of having to ask.” The show revolves around the ups and downs of a high-flying law firm based in (a very obviously fake) New York. It’s about power, money, relationships, and a very much fictional version of the law. 

It follows Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht), a hotshot lawyer, who we are repeatedly told is “the best closer in town” but appears to do very little actual work in the show and honestly seems like more trouble than he is worth. Harvey is a man who doesn’t like being told what to do and so he inexplicably hires Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams), a part-time weed dealer with the brain of a supercomputer, who is very much not the kind of Harvard-educated lawyer the firm usually hires (Harvard is very important in the show as both an easy shorthand for intelligence and as an excuse to sing the “Harvard Song,” which is as painful as it sounds). Together, they will pull off the bluff of the century, winning cases, the details of which you will never need to know nor understand. 

Along their way, Harvey and Mike are helped by Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres), the no-nonsense head of the firm truly living up to Michael Scott’s adage “Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy. Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.” There’s also Donna Paulsen (Sarah Rafferty), Harvey’s brilliant assistant, who knows and can do anything the specificities of the plot require (why? “Because she’s Donna”), Rachel Zane, the paralegal played by Meghan Markle, who has a will-they-won’t-they relationship with Mike, and finally, Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman), Harvey’s ridiculous but lovable adversary who has framed photos of himself in his office.

So, as we’ve established, Suits is a wonderfully silly piece of television – but what makes it such great entertainment? The first reason is that Suits is a good-looking show. Its sets are bright, its aesthetics are clean and its actors are handsome and immaculately dressed. In its look and feel, Suits is very much emblematic of the “blue sky” era of American television which saw the distribution of breezy, low-stakes procedurals often shot outdoors or with bright lighting. In an age in which television has now become so dark (both visually and in tone) that you have to manually edit the brightness on your TV settings, a show like Suits is something of a novelty. Its sets are often so bright that characters sometimes wear sunglasses whilst talking to clients. It should be noted that they also usually put them on after delivering a slam-dunk line. 

Suits is also appealing because it represents a kind of fantasy. As alluded to, every line is a zinger, every case is a win and every member of the firm is attractive. Suits is the conversation you have with yourself in the shower when you imagine winning the argument that left you tongue-tied three hours earlier. It’s a world in which every employee went to Harvard, every character wears clothes worth thousands of pounds and scotch is sipped like it’s water. In an age where stoicism is doing the rounds on social media, it also captures a level of emotional repression that could appeal to viewers longing for less emotionally charged times. 

This nostalgia for a bygone era is particularly crucial to its recent success. Suits officially ended in September 2019, three months before the first reported outbreak of COVID-19 cases in Wuhan, China. This makes it a time capsule for a pre-COVID-19 era when global affairs were less overwhelming. Most importantly, perhaps, it holds an office nostalgia for all the aspects of working life that were altered during the pandemic. This was a time when people wore full suits to the office, worked in-person rather than remotely and shook hands with each other with confidence. Working from home was gradually gaining popularity in the 2010s but it accelerated hugely during the pandemic. Similarly, studies have found that office workwear changed following the outbreak as the boundaries between home and work blurred and the codes of dress began to relax. Suits, with its title being the main giveaway, represents a different era – a simpler time that we can never return to. This simplicity, of course, is one of its most appealing assets. 

There is no best episode of Suits because they are all gloriously the same. The cases are meaningless, the remarks are quippy and the stakes (even when they’re pretending not to be) are always very, very low. It’s a show that is designed to teach you nothing. It doesn’t preach to its audience because it has nothing to say. Its episodes are so bland that they are genuinely soothing, and in an increasingly alarmist world, sometimes this is a wonderful way to end the day.

 Suits is a silly show with a deliciously nonsensical premise, and so it comes as no surprise that people are craving it in these frighteningly serious times. When watching it, nothing is absorbed and nothing is retained. Suits is blissfully mind-numbing entertainment in an overstimulating world.

Image credit: Photo by Genevieve, licensed under CC BY 2.0 DEED, via Wikimedia Commons. Cropped from original.