Suits is a rating powerhouse for the USA Network. So when the network announced that Gina Torres’s character, Jessica Pearson, would get her own show, there were roars of triumph. The announcement was bigger than Torres; this was history in the making. Gina Torres is the first Afro-Latina woman to lead a television show.
A little rewind if you’re not a Suits fan: When we last saw her, Jessica Pearson had resigned from the law firm she created after being disbarred. In Pearson, she’s traded the law firm for city hall, and while she’s still powerful, she has something to prove. In her new position as the fixer, she makes new allies – Press Secretary Derrick Mayes (Eli Goree) – and encounters old foes, including Attorney Keri Allen (Bethany Joy Lenz). While Chicago Mayor Bobby Novak (Morgan Spector) is happy to have Jessica on his team, he has ulterior motives.
Unlike Suits, we get a glimpse into Jessica’s personal life in Pearson. We see her gain a family, with Cousin Angela and Aunt Lillian – portrayed powerfully by Chantel Riley and veteran actress Juanita Jennings, respectively – coming into the picture. Her beau, Jeff Malone (D.B. Woodside), makes the leap with her from Suits.
While there are several familiar elements from Pearson‘s predecessor, you’ll be disappointed if you expect an extension of Suits. But the show is better for it.
Pearson shows us that Jessica is human. On Suits, she wasn’t vulnerable. But the move to Chicago and the Mayor’s office isn’t a smooth transition and she faces struggle. Jessica now has a boss; she also must establish a working relationship with Keri, the woman responsible for her new career. She navigates new terrain, including a co-worker, Yoli Castillo (Isabel Arraiza) who is not impressed by Jessica’s confidence or smart quips.
Nothing is ever as it seems with Jessica and while she’s new to government something is amiss at city hall. She begins to question why she was brought on: Was it for her abilities or to keep her in line? If we know anything about Jessica Pearson, it’s that no one holds her in check.
Going into the viewing of the first episode, titled “The Alderman,” I was most concerned about whether or not the show would temper Jessica Pearson? Would they modify her so much that she no longer resembled the character we first met on Suits? I’m happy to say the answer is no. Giving her challenges makes her more appealing. And she is up against a lot. It’s not just at work; it’s also at home. Cousin Angela isn’t a fan. This tension-filled relationship ends up being one of the best parts of the show. Angela understands that underneath that polished veneer is a scared woman. As much as she’d like to welcome Jessica’s financial assistance, she’s not ready to accept all that comes with that gift.
On top of building on a character and showing us to see a new side to her, Pearson allows for moments where Jessica can speak Spanish. While her character wasn’t outright identified as Latina in the first episode, we know she is because of Gina Torres. In a recent interview with Vibe, Torres explained why it was important for the character to be Afro-Latina. “I was very specific about reinventing Jessica’s mythology and making sure, for the first time in my life, I would actually be playing an Afro-Latina character,” she said. “In the past, it was never an issue for me because I wasn’t in a position of power, but now, in this instance, I was, and I got to say, ‘This is who she is and we are going to reintroduce her to the world as a proud Afro-Latina character.”
We get sprinklings of it from the get go, particularly in her first meeting with Yoli. But, we still don’t know enough about this part of her character. We have met her relatives, but we don’t know how her background informs her in her life. With Torres’ involvement, I can only hope that this part will be more drawn out in the future.
Some of Pearson‘s story is a bit predictable: Jessica and Keri aren’t going to be BFFs (shocking!); she’s learning the job is more of a setup and less of a lifeline. The more exciting storyline revolves around her and Nick, which leaves us wondering whether he’s the riddle to her mystery or the person who will reveal why she was brought to city hall.
I, for one, am looking forward to going on that journey with Jessica. After all, she’s at her best when the odds are stacked against her.
Pearson airs every Wednesday on the USA Network at 10 p.m.