Since the Meghan Markle-starring legal drama moved to Netflix and Peacock it has surged in popularity, but there could be more behind its success, writes Louis Staples.

Twelve years after its first episode premiered on US cable TV, the legal drama Suits is experiencing a huge resurgence in popularity. According to Nielsen’s streaming charts, the series has clocked up more than 12.8 billion minutes viewed in the US over the last four weeks, after being added to Netflix in the US, where it is also available on NBC-owned streaming service Peacock. It has twice broken the record for most-streamed programme in the US in a single measurement week.

Any show released today would be thrilled with these numbers, let alone a drama that aired its final episode in 2019 and could have just as easily faded from memory. So why has 2023 become the “summer of Suits”?

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Created and written by Aaron Korsh, Suits is a fast-paced, sexy drama set in a fictional New York law firm, which follows Mike Ross (Patrick J Adams), a college dropout who uses his photographic memory to blag his way into a top legal job. He works under attorney Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht), as they do everything it takes to win cases while hiding his secret. The series also stars Rick Hoffman as Louis Litt – a ruthless and dishonest financial-law partner – and Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex, as talented paralegal Rachel Zane.

Could the sudden rise of Suits on streaming be linked to Markle? It’s possible that intrigue at her breakout TV role – her only lead role so far – could be driving some initial interest in the show. After all, she was relatively unknown before Suits and is now one of the most famous women in the world. She and her husband’s other project for Netflix, docu-series Harry & Meghan, was the platform’s most-watched show of 2022, so clearly subscribers are interested in her. “For people who haven’t watched Suits before they may have heard of it because of Meghan Markle and are curious to see her act,” says Suits fan, Alicia Johnson.

“It usually takes me a few episodes to get into a show, but Suits had one of the best pilots I’ve ever seen. It had me gripped from the start,” says Johnson, 38, from London, who originally watched the show on TV but is now rewatching it on Netflix. She was drawn to Suits because of its sharp dialogue and the mixture of comedy, romance and dramatic plot twists. She also liked its array of female characters, including Jessica Pearson – the firm’s no-nonsense managing partner, played by Gina Torres. “For the time, it was quite a diverse cast,” she says. “And there was a black woman in charge.”

Anti-prestige TV

Suits being added to Netflix, the world’s most popular streaming service, is surely the key driver of its current success. TV critic and broadcaster Scott Bryan, host of the Must Watch podcast on BBC Sounds, thinks it sits in a sweet spot where it’s attracting re-watchers and first-time viewers. “We’re seeing a boom of new programmes in the streaming age, but also there is massive viewership of older shows, many of which might be available to stream for the first time,” he tells BBC Culture. “This can feed into a nostalgic viewing tradition, where fans rewatch a show they’ve seen before, or it can be a chance to watch a show that you might have missed the first time.”

There is something specifically convenient about a TV series with 15+ episodes in a season, where narrative arcs and plots take longer to conclude. With more people now working from home, there is a draw towards shows that can be watched in the background over a longer period, like reality TV franchises Below Deck and Real Housewives, which also became popular after being added to Netflix in 2020. A scripted show like Suits can similarly entertain without requiring viewers’ constant attention.

Could the streaming success of a show like Suits form part of a rebellion against “prestige” TV? Streaming platforms have largely abandoned making new TV shows with twenty-episode seasons, but a viral post on X, formerly known as Twitter, suggests there is a specific comfort to be found in this old-school format. “I don’t want prestige TV,” wrote author Boze Herrington. “I want comfort shows with 36-episode seasons where at least three episodes are holiday-themed and 10 of them are the worst thing you’ve ever seen in your life.” Prestige TV series, such as Succession or The White Lotus, tend to have fewer episodes. with a longer running time, that are usually much more detailed and complex. Every episode of Amazon’s Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power – the most expensive TV series ever made – is practically like a short blockbuster movie. In these series, the stakes tend to be higher and they are designed to be closely analysed. But after the epic conclusion of Succession, perhaps there is a desire for something different.

Wider culture has been fixated with the early 2000s in recent years, from flip-phones and Ugg boots coming back into fashion, to the resurgence of romantic comedy films, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez’s whirlwind romance, Paris Hilton singing her 2006 hit Stars are Blind on New Year’s Eve to ring in 2023, and the public re-evaluation of how women like Britney Spears were once treated. This month, fans have been rewatching The OC as the show marks its twentieth anniversary, while shows like And Just Like That…, HBO’s Gossip Girl reboot and Netflix’s 2016 Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life have capitalised on a fondness for the same era. Could the renaissance of Suits, which premiered in 2011, represent a nostalgia shift towards the 2010s? “Where there’s an infinite amount of new programmes, there’s comfort in a show that feels familiar, where you remember what you were doing when it first came out,” Bryan says. “I’m doing that right now with Desperate Housewives.”

But Johnson insists the show itself is the main reason why Suits is breaking streaming records. “It’s such a good first episode that people probably stay to see what happens next,” she says. “It’s an easy, entertaining show, which is why I am rewatching it again.”

Suits is available to stream on Netflix and Peacock now.

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