A Spin-Off That Makes Me Wonder About the Original Show
Pearson Doesn’t Suit Anybody
As I have said, and will continue to say, there are so many series on the air that even very successful series I will have no choice but to bypass. One such show was USA’s Suits. A legal drama ostensibly centered on a New York law firm, involving two protagonists, one of whom (Patrick J. Adams) was hired even though he didn’t have a law degree. I have a fan of the legal-based drama, but this series sounded a bit one-note, and frankly, I was kind of astonished how successful was the longer it stayed on the air. Even though it had several actors whose work I admired, and even though actual royalty worked on the series (I’d never heard of Meghan Markle before she marked Prince Harry), I just couldn’t bring myself to get involved.
However, there was one actress on the series who I did admire before she appeared on suits: Gina Torres. Known to me for her work on two of Joss Whedon’s cult classics, as well as the early years of Alias, another series dear to my heart, I have always admired Torres’ capabilities, and have always figured that she deserved to play the lead of something. In July, my wish was fulfilled, as her character from Suits actually got the title role in Pearson. And she is every bit as good as I thought she could be. I just wish she had better material to work with.
Jessica Pearson apparently lost her law license in an earlier story on Suits, but still seems to have a lot of the savvy that her character had. She has landed the role as the Mayor of Chicago (Morgan Spector) fixer — a job she seems to have landed in order to drop a lawsuit against developers tearing down a housing project, where among others, her estranged cousin and her family live.
In what is becoming a rather tired gimmick for so many of these series, no one is happy when she takes her new job. Not the Mayor’s legal counsel Keri, who in the grand tradition of so many series, is having an affair with the mayor. Not the mayor’s bodyman, Nick, an ex-cop, who seems to be the mayor’s half-brother. And certainly not Pat McGahm (Wayne Duvall), the construction magnate who seems to be the power behind everything in Chicago, and is clearly holding something over him. Her family seems to bear a grudge, and her boyfriend, a U.S. Attorney (DB Woodside) thinks taking the job is suicidal. Only the mayor’s idealistic press secretary and Jessica’s intern seem to give a damn about what she does.
By far the best thing about the series is Torres’ work as Pearson. It would be easy enough to write her off as a poor woman’s Olivia Pope. But Jessica actually seems to give a damn about people almost despite herself. Her whole reason for taking the job was to get her family a new place to live, even if none of them are particularly warm to the idea. And Jessica still seems to have a level of idealism mixed in with her realpolitic — she is willing to give a person who trashed her on social media a job, not so much to help herself, but because there is a genuine connection there. And she does seem to worry about what this job will do to her soul — something no one in Shondaland ever seemed to care about.
Unfortunately, everything else connected to Pearson is rehashed from other series. So much of the politics involved were done so much better in The Good Wife, particularly to bit done with Peter Florrick and Eli. Talking over each about perception versus policy is basically a poor man’s Aaron Sorkin. Even the idea of a show about the Mayor of Chicago was done better in the failed Starz series’ Boss. None of the other characters seem capable of rising above two dimensions. Even the efforts to show that McGahn, who everybody in this town quakes at, is basically a big fish in a small pond, is something we’ve basically seen on other USA shows.
I don’t know if Pearson has a life as a series. One wouldn’t think Suits could’ve lasted eight seasons, much less inspired a spin-off. It has some intriguing ideas, but it’s hard to know of they’d go anywhere. Pearson seems to be stuck between the dark anti-heroine types of cable, and the crisis a week idea of network shows, and frankly is more successful with the latter than the former. Maybe if Jessica were just a fixer the series would be more solid, but there’s so much baggage attached — there’s a killing, and at least one formal investigation into the Mayor — that it doesn’t seem willing to stand on its own merits. Torres is resplendent — she is what Kerry Washington spent seven seasons on Scandal trying to be — but ultimately, this show plays far too small to be a success at either.
My score: 2.5 stars.