TV Review: Gina Torres Finally Gets Her Moment in Imperfect ‘Pearson’

USA Network's "Pearson"

Over the years, Gina Torres has made a name for herself as an authentic, grounded actress and a reliable screen presence. She has scored guest stints on the likes of The WB’sAngel,” ABC’sAlias” and Fox’s24.” Audiences and fans may be most familiar with her from Joss Whedon’s gone-too-soon space drama “Firefly,” and its subsequent film “Serenity,” or for the six seasons she handled the law on USA’sSuits,” of which the final season begins tonight. But now, for the first time in her career, Torres is headlining her own show.

From 2011 to 2017, Torres played no-nonsense lawyer Jessica Pearson on the popular, aforementioned USA series. At the end of the show’s sixth season, Torres left the show. She returned for several episodes in the seventh season under the guise of setting up her own spin-off. That spin-off premieres tonight, with Torres center stage. But with such a charismatic leading lady, “Pearson” sadly fails to be the vehicle she deserves.

Gina Torres as Jessica Pearson

The series follows Torres’s disbarred lawyer Jessica Pearson as she settles into her new job as a professional fixer for the shady Mayor of Chicago (Morgan Spector). This new career choice has upset her live-in-boyfriend, Jeff (DB Woodside). Politics is a dirty world. And after barely managing to overcome the last sketchy situation she found herself in, this new line of work may not be in her best interest.

But Jessica is not one to sit on the sidelines. She jumps into her new job head first and takes to the work immediately. She doles out threats and negotiates deals with equal ease. Her vulnerable side is on display as well, as she manages to help keep a school open in an underprivileged neighborhood. She puppeteers the press secretary, Derrick Mayes (Eli Goree), and she butts heads with city attorney, Keri Allen (Bethany Joy Lenz), who happens to be sleeping with the married Mayor.

Being a spin-off, “Pearson” will undeniably face comparisons to its predecessor, some warranted and some not-so-warranted. This new series is looking to blaze its own path, but is also asking for fans of “Suits” to jump onboard. This built-in fanbase may be disappointed in the tonal trajectory of “Pearson,” which is taking itself very seriously.

On “Suits,” Jessica stood out as a straight shooter, amongst a rather infectiously scrappy group of players. On “Pearson,” she is surrounded by those much too similar in temperament. This series is missing the tongue-in-cheek dialogue and the clever repartee that makes “Suits” so much fun.

While trying to lay the groundwork that is necessary when starting a new series, “Pearson” has found itself in the rather uncomfortable situation of not having any character that is particularly likable. Every character has a grudge to bare, and most scenes are a confrontation. With light moments few and far between, the anger and constant battling is draining.

Gina Torres as Jessica Pearson

Setting the series’ tenor aside, “Pearson” also fails to capture the exhilaration of Jessica’s small victories. While there is a season long arch, each episode has its own individual challenges for her to manage. The successes that Jessica ultimately achieves feel empty and uninspired because she has no one to share them with. On “Pearson,” confidants take a back seat to adversaries.

Created by Aaron Korsh (who also created “Suits”) and Daniel Arkin, “Pearson” is far from a bad show. There are some beautiful shots of Chicago, with pressing, real-life social issues used to tell relevant stories. The diverse cast seems willing and able to deliver laudable performances, and Torres is more than capable of leading this series to success.

It is important for spin-offs to find their own rhythm and set themselves apart from their antecedents, but “Pearson” cannot be afraid to tap into the joy that makes “Suits” so endearing. If “Pearson” can somehow achieve the appropriate balance between the serious and playful, there is no doubt of this show’s bright future. And if anything, Gina Torres deserves her day in the sun.

“Pearson” premieres tonight on the USA Network at 10 ET.

What do you think of “Pearson”? Can this show tap into the same magic that makes “Suits” so special? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!  

GRADE: (★★)