This new year I’ve been watching two new lawyer based programmes – the American import Suits, and new ITV and Kudos show Eternal Law.
I’d been putting off watching the beginning of Eternal Law, as the concept of angels acting as lawyers seemed a bit gimmicky, and it was only the involvement of Kudos – creators of Hustle, Spooks and Life on Mars – that convinced me to put aside my reservations.
But Eternal Law fleshes out the concept of angels on Earth well. There’s references to their boss, ‘Mr. Mountjoy’; spotting an image of a friend on stained glass; ‘If that’s the Jehovah’s Witnesses, tell them they’re totally wrong’.
It all adds depth to the world, makes it seem more believable.
Suits is a bit more straight forward – a ‘normal’ law programme, albeit well executed, following a genius dropout with no formal training in the law, but the skills to excel.
The two shows have a similar setup – a young ‘lawyer’ who for whatever reason is naive and untrained (Mike Ross hasn’t been through law school, Tom Greening has only just arrived on Earth), with a slightly amoral and cocky mentor (Harvey Specter and Zak Gist), a dark rival for the mentorship position (Louis Litt and the fallen angel Richard Pembroke).
The basic setup is the same, albeit with different background ideas and types of supporting characters – Harvey and Louis are being considered for eventual Managing Partner when Jessica Pearson decides to step down; Richard Pembroke thinks that Mr. Mountjoy is coming around to his way of thinking, and Zak Gist thinks he may ‘pull the plug’.
It feels like a strange thing to say, but, having watched 3 episodes each of Suits and of Eternal Law, I’ve found the show about angels to be the more believable.
With science fiction and fantasy, the audience will have to work a bit harder to suspend their disbelief. It can be a bit hard to accept that there are angels and demons walking the Earth, or that a spaceship can travel hundreds of light years in a day, or whatever else.
But when a world is fully fleshed out, there can be a sense of a detailed universe with a history extending back before the start, and with a larger set of events we’re not seeing.
Some of the action in Suits feel artificially created to raise the stakes. For example, Jessica Pearson, the current Managing Partner tells her predecessor that she plans to retire young, and that Harvey and Louis are rivals to replace her. So rather than being just an ordinary workplace rivalry, their competitiveness is for the prize of inheriting leadership of the company.
And the idea that Mike Ross is smart enough to be able to read a room full of legal documents in a single night, and can spew out what he’s read months or years back verbatim, but has gotten so far off track… I’m willing to suspend my disbelief past this, but it’s a bit hard to buy.
Whereas in Eternal Law, if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief past the initial concept, it doesn’t feel artificial at all. Everything else, beyond that, feel like natural and believable consequences of the fictional world. A fallen angel who feels contempt for the humanity around him, the idea of God becoming disillusioned with humanity – it’s all constructed in such a way that it feels like it flows naturally from the central concept.
That’s not to say that I don’t like Suits. It’s slick, fun, and manages to maintain the balance between the lawyers being stylish and supercompetent, and human and likeable.
Having Mike Ross reporting directly to the second highest ranking lawyer in the company, but work on the ground floor, is a nice touch, as it allows the audience to get a sense of the scope of this huge law firm, that, for example, I didn’t feel with the excellent Boston Legal’s Crane, Poole and Schmidt.
The two shows are both fun, with likeable characters, the drama of dealing in law, and larger developing stories and concepts that goes beyond the ‘case of the week’.
But I found it interesting that of the two programmes, the more obviously far-fetched was the one I found easier to suspend my disbelief for.
Suits is on Watch every Tuesday at 9pm, with episode 4 on 7th February.
Eternal Law is on ITV every Thursday at 9pm, with episode 5 on 2nd February. The first 4 episodes of Eternal Law are still available on ITV Player.