Television has countless quality series on the air, and within many of those there are great duos that we love watching. Yet for our money, no show does it better than USA's Suits, and - while we wait with bated breath to see tonight's flashback episode that promises to dig into their history! - we submit that there is no greater partnership on the small screen than that between ace attorney Harvey Specter and his loyal assistant Donna Paulsen.
What makes us rank these two at the top of our list? They're everything you expect from a fantastic TV tandem and a few things you won't find anywhere else.
Firstly, you can't make a great duo if you don't have two outstanding individual characters. Harvey Specter is one of our favorite protagonists on TV for so many reasons: he's wickedly smart, ridiculously confident, never without a comeback, and deliciously complex. We desperately want to know what makes this guy tick. At the same time, we enjoy watching him lay waste to anyone on the other side of the table. Credit the Suits writers for not only creating a character who is far richer than the egotistical antihero stereotype he could've been, but continuing to develop him into somebody we feel like we can relate to and yet, are also perpetually fascinated by.
Then there's Donna Paulsen. How many shows do you know that have a sassy female assistant character? That archetype is a dime a dozen on TV. And we certainly love Donna's attitude and her willingness to use it. But there are so many other aspects to her beyond being the sharp-tongued sidekick who answers Harvey's calls. While so many other shows equate being a strong woman with being able to toss off a wisecrack or project toughness, Donna displays real strength: strength of character and the courage of her convictions. She has her own point of view, goals, and opinion. Beyond her relationship with Harvey, she has flourished as her own complete and compelling individual.
Such well-written characters, however, require actors who are up to the task. In two seasons, Gabriel Macht has acquitted himself as the smartest actor on television. Here's someone who should never leave our airwaves. The visible effort and nuances he brings to his portrayal of Harvey are every writer's dream. When he speaks, we listen. When we watch him, we don't even remember that he's acting. Then there's Sarah Rafferty, who's probably the most underappreciated actress out there right now. It's kind of dumbfounding that it took this long for her to come to widespread attention. She could lead her own series. How exactly is she not more famous? How do either of these people not have Emmys or Golden Globes on their mantels yet?
Okay, so you've got good characters, and you've hired talented actors. Yet you also have to find a pair who can work well together. For a duo to work, they must have a successful dynamic. It doesn't matter how good they are separately if they can't mesh as a cohesive unit that audiences want to watch. Harvey and Donna have certainly captured our attention in a variety of ways. We enjoy their banter. We respect their loyalty to each other. We've been talking all week about finding out what the deal is with that can opener, and then there's that tease with the whipped cream. Most importantly, we believe in their bond. Writers can say characters are best friends, but they can't make us feel that. Macht and Rafferty have been friends for years, and that's an authentic chemistry that cannot be engineered.
What distinguishes Harvey and Donna as the best partnership on television is the unique way in which their dynamic has been crafted over Suits' three seasons. It's a fully realized, complex relationship that feels real, simply because it's been allowed to go to places where other shows might avoid treading. We've seen Harvey and Donna banter and celebrate their victories, which we certainly love doing. Yet we've also seen them have disagreements - and we don't mean those cute TV fights that are resolved in a scene or by the end of the hour. Remember when Donna got fired and Harvey had to struggle to get her back? We mean real difficulties like that. Or Donna giving Harvey a swift kick in the ass when he needs it. Or Harvey not being afraid to remind Donna that he is not only her best friend, but also her boss.
Yet at the same time, we know that these two will always believe in each other. When Donna's new love interest Stephen crossed Harvey, we didn't see Donna turn mushy just for the sake of the subplot. No, her sparks with Stephen didn't change her support of Harvey. And no matter Harvey's feelings toward Stephen, when Donna told him who she was seeing earlier that same episode, he didn't flip out no matter how dramatic it would have been. He reacted like a mature adult and treated her with respect. This is such a great pairing because the relationship is constant, not something that's malleable whenever something seems like a good idea at the time.
And they are remarkable for representing a rare quantity: the purely platonic male-female friendship. It's something you rarely see on TV without it eventually turning into romance. In an age of television where love interests are written into the show before it even starts, and where such subplots sometimes take over entire shows, it's refreshing to see a man and a woman who can have chemistry without needing to sleep together. We appreciate that they can still have a meaningful and solid relationship that's stronger than most TV romances. That's not to say that we're opposed to the idea of them someday becoming a couple, but the show is to be commended for not forcing them there simply because they match well. Should they eventually hook up, it will be because it's organic, and after a friendship we've gotten to appreciate.
Yet there's no denying that they're something special. Any way you look at it, from the crafting of two wonderful characters to the efforts of a pair of remarkable players and the strength of their material, Harvey and Donna are the new standard when it comes to creating a television duo. We as viewers are richer for getting to watch them. Now will someone just tell us what's going on with that can opener already?
Suits is all-new tonight at 10 PM ET/PT on USA. Check out a Harvey and Donna clip from "The Other Time" below!