Pearson: Why this Suits spin-off failed to capture an audience

Pearson

Off the back of the sharp dialogue. bromance and courtroom antics fans love in Suits, many were excited at the prospect of a spin-off last year.  The same producers and writers of Suits would be at the helm with creative appointment from its star,  Gina Torres’ coupled with an existing fanbase who were ready to cross over for more!

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Do spin-off series ever succeed?

When it comes to repeating television success and you have the room to play, spin-offs can be great.  Aaron Spelling did it with intergenerational hits like Dynasty, Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place but also failed with many one-hit wonders like Central Park West, Models Inc.,  including daytime soap fail, Sunset Beach.  90210, Melrose Place and Dynasty rebooted with just one of those shows still on air today.

On the flip side, Shonda Rhimes created some of the most iconic women on television through long standing success of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with murder among others.  The success of Frasier came off the back of Cheers in the 1980s, Producers of Friends tried and failed spinning off, Joey, just as Seinfeld’s, Kramer did too,  while the legacy of Vampire Diaries spun off two incarnations maintaining an audience today in Legacies after it went off air shortly before, The Originals.

A firm idea and a knowledge of how to extend the fanbase interest is critical with each new creation or face floundering.

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Shows like Frasier, developed its own identity building a new audience, while a show like Vampire Diaries and The Originals often relied on each other’s back story to keep the story moving but found its own following with so much interest surrounding the character of Klaus.   The repeated formulas of TJ Hooker, Dynasty, 90210 and Melrose Place may have been different in context but with the latter two, the productions were in response to Spelling’s creations growing / ageing with its target audience.

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New things Suits fans learned about Jessica Pearson’s character:

It’s no secret the hardlined Pearson on Suits was a fan favorite, but in retrospect – was it a good move pulling Jessica Pearson out of Suits for her own show and putting her in camp situations of girl on girl verbal sparring?  Because that’s not when this character shone at her best.   The canvas establishing the Pearson dynamics were no match to her Suits powerplays with Harvey, Louis, Robert Zane and Daniel Hardman.

In the first 15 minutes of Pearson, we’re introduced to the time-jump format, family and work ties and a feel for social inequality politics to be explored by this new altered self realisation character even we didn’t recognise when she exited Suits.  Jessica was always very secretive or protective of her self image on Suits,  manging to hide her marriage from everyone on Suits for years.  The mellower version in Pearson lets us become more closely acquainted with Miss Jessica as she returns to her father’s hometown.

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We saw a maternal side with her baby cousins.  It was both unnerving and interesting to watch, though it was balanced out with her adjusting to her new role at City Council.

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“This is all new to me Mr Mayor and its going to take some time getting use to not calling all the shots…  But I don’t think you want me taking smaller bites…” – the defining moment in the pilot setting the tone for the new and old Jessica Pearson.

Even simple things we were never privy to in Suits when it came to this very professionally protective mogul, it was a humbling site to see her morning workout almost echoing the morning workouts we use to see with Harvey and later, Sam.

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And hold up, did she go to Church?  These are all moments we tuned into Pearson for,  but did the show bring out the best of her?

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By referring to Jessica as “The Fixer” of City Hall, they were inviting competition and expectations set by the Olivia Popes and Annalise Keatings of television whether they liked it or not.  The show’s new take on adding to this house of female colored icons just didn’t work, particularly when just skimming over controversial topics of racial tension, social housing and immigration.

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The main take home message from the immigration story arc was that we finally found out Jessica was half Cuban and the daughter of an immigrant herself, so that’s something.

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Out of all the topics they could have explored in this new Chicago political setting, it took ten episodes for Angela Cook, Jessica’s cousin to light the match in a moment that might have started to rival Annalise Keating’s grand jury speech or Olivia Pope’s ‘president’s daughter sex tape negotiation’ monologue.  But even then, it was never properly explained why there was so much resentment from branch of the family tree and why Jessica kept rolling over.  How weird was it seeing her in jeans and talking smack with those drug dealers though?

The crossovers on both shows served no real purpose:

Both Suits (Season 9) and Pearson (Season 1) came to an end within a week of each other in September 2019 with both shows now relegated to re-runs on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

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There was something not right about Donna and Harvey finally getting a happy ending in Season 9.  The abscence of Jessica still felt since she left in Season 7 of Suits.   For long time fans, one could argue an old show seemed to lose its edge while a new one failed to find one.

Pearson turned out to be the cable network’s lowerst rated show with the stars of the hour on major networks predominantly reality shows – America’s Got Talent and Big Brother.

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So when introducing a crossover why weren’t these opportunities seized?   A final hurrah with all players back together rather than just token phone calls of about 30 seconds in passing? Rather pointless.

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If you’re going to go there, take it all the way as Jessica’s Aunt says herself in the season.

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Without getting into the web of crossovers of Marvel, the most successful television crossovers still to this day were in daytime. Sheila Carter from the Young and the Restless who was presumed dead turned up on the low rated Bold and the Beautiful.  In that instance the character brought the entire audience with her as viewers had to tune in to both shows to get the full story with the satisfying pay outs.  Many since have tried but not as successfully including Kelly’s baby switching storyline which took us from All My Children to One Live to Live and Gretel Cummings’ police investigation  which took her from Pine Valley to Llanview and General Hospital’s Port Charles.

Vampire Diaries and The Originals have succeeded as did Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice for example but many prime time crossovers are written in standalone ways that don’t require viewers to tune in to both.

An underwhelming season finale and missed opportunities:

Pearson was well written but the premise of the script overall that let this character down was in not giving its principal enough room to showcase the range we’ve seen on Suits to bridge that gap in this transformed Pearson looking for purpose.

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It was nice to hear Donna referenced.  Things got so serious so quickly with Jessica and her new latina assistant and there were comic moments toyed with in this relationship that should have been explored more.

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“You’ve known him for 5 years and let yourself wait for scraps. You must think pretty little of yourself to put up with that.” – Stephanie to Kerri

No discredit to supporting cast, they worked the material they were given but with two thirds of the show’s air time going to new characters – clearer establishments of character motivation and  back stories were needed between Keri, Bobby, Mike and Stephanie because we didnt care as much as we should have when the drama came.

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Los Angeles, the murder confession and Pat McGann’s long term relationship with the boys.  The story telling format of later seasons of suits here just didnt work.  We needed the peppering of flashbacks we got on Suits with Donna and Harvey,  Mike and Trevor, Mike and his Grandma because those meaningless moments of chemistry filled dialogue established brought us to the core of each character.  On Pearson, there’s a lack of connection.

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“You brought Jessica in to protect me because you knew this day was coming and here it is” – so what power hungry Jessica develops a conscience and ends up being a pawn in someone else’s game?  Not sure the audience was ready to buy that.

Also what this show was missing was a catalyst like Daniel Hardman or Robert Zane that could push Jessica’s buttons and harness that fierceness our screens love.  With 7 seasons of history and decades of off-screen back story to draw from, Pearson failed to fire by lining itself up in Shondaland territory.

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Would we have tuned in for Season 2?

Was there really enough of a setup exciting enough for us to want to tune back in?

The final shot in the Season 1 finale / Series finale seemed to be the old Jessica we remember – done with jumping through hoops and playing nice with the boss, the whole season for her was all about compromise.   While it was nice to see her playing with her baby cousins, Pearson lost her edge, was out of her element and her renaissance in her Suits finale seemed to completely alter the character without the original spark that hooked us in, in the first place, so it may have done better as another show starring Gina Torres without the expectations we placed on it as we tried to go back to the glory days of Suits.

Pearson is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video (US Only)
and is still worthy of a watch:

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Suits is now streaming on Netflix,
add it to your MyList below:

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