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‘How To Get Away With Murder’ Review: Sexy Law Students and Viola Davis At Her Best

After a series of lackluster to downright awful drama pilots (Mysteries of Laura, Manhattan Love Story, Stalker, and Madam Secretary come to mind), you have no idea how welcome the pilot for How To Get Away With Murder was. And tonight’s second episode was just as great! So far the Peter Nowalk created and Shonda Rhimes produced series is a hell of a lot of fun, the over-the-top ridiculousness filled with twists, turns, and shocking cliffhangers that Scandal viewers will be familiar with.

How To Get Away With Murder is set at a prestigious law school where Professor Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) teaches a course on, well, how to get away with murder. This is of course when she’s not getting actual – alleged, I should say – murderers off scot free at her law firm. Naturally, this isn’t all there is to the show’s plot; she along with her students end up tangled in a messy murder of their own, and have to deal with the consequences.

It’s interesting that a series with as loquacious a title as this one (I’ve taken to just calling it Murder, which has gotten me more than a few looks when talking about it in public – “I can’t wait for more Murder next week,” “Murder is the best thing I’ve seen all month”) also happens to be overstuffed with a wide cast of characters. Viola Davis is positively electric as Annalise, easily stealing every scene she’s in. Also teaching Keating’s Criminal Law 100 class is Frank Delfino (Charlie Weber) and Bonnie Winterbottom (Liza Weil).

And then there are the class’ standout students, the ones who end up working alongside Professor Keating at her law firm: Wes Gibbins (Alfred Enoch), Michaela Pratt (Aja Naomi King), Connor Walsh (Jack Falahee), Laurel Castillo (Karla Souza), and Asher Millstone (Matt McGorry). Besides all those shady lawyers, we also have Annalise’s psychology professor husband Sam Keating (Tom Verica), her boyfriend Nate Lahey (Billy Brown) and Wes’ semi-suspicious next door neighbor Rebecca Sutter, played by The Killing‘s Katie Findlay. For a show with a cast this large, these past two episodes have done a pretty good job at balancing screen time… except for amusing douchebro Asher, about which I have zero complaints.

Some of the writing does dance into cringy, cheesy territory (“You don’t want to be a sitting duck when the shooter gets here,” for instance, or the breathily delivered “I did, but I want this too!”) – but since this show feels like it’s meant to be good campy fun in the first place, cheesiness is a given. I will embrace it, especially when the rest of the time we get hilariously snippy bickering and Ooh Buurn zingers courtesy of the students’ exasperated professors. “I look nice, I know, but that’s just my face,” has definitely been added to my list of things to quote on a daily basis.

Though this is more of a stylistic preference, I do think the quick snapshot editing with the flashbacks is too jarring. Particularly in the pilot, the flashbacks didn’t mesh well; characters’ panicky babbling in present day’s Murder Time Forest would quickly cut to another character’s panicky babbling in Annalise’s class three months prior, and all the flashing scenes did was make my head spin. It feels a lot like How To Get Away With Murder‘s version of the flashing camera shutter editing in Scandal, and I’m not sure if that’s intentional. It did lessen up slightly in the second episode, and we are already getting surprisingly close to figuring out what happened the night of the Big Murder, so maybe the flashbacks will continue to dial back.

All in all, these two episodes were hands down the best thing I’ve seen out of the new fall shows. It’s fun, sexy, entertaining, and hilarious. Yes, there are the usual plot contrivances here and there (would high profile murder cases like these really allow a classroom full of students up in their business? And couldn’t Wes have found out about Annalise’s affair in a way that wasn’t casual breaking and entering? Don’t they care that none of this is legal?!), but it’s all for the sake of exciting and excellent television. And How To Get Away With Murder is shaping up to be some excellent, excellent television indeed.

OTHER THINGS

  • Everyone is turning out to have a secret dark side and it is fantastic. You can never quite tell who’s telling the truth in any given moment, or if they’re being manipulative. My theory: everyone is evil.
  • A friend and I found out by conversational-slip-of-the-tongue that another fun alternative title for this show is: “How I Met Your Murderer.” If this wasn’t just as long as the actual title, I would definitely make this the official show nickname.
  • My current order of faves is: Annalise, Wes, Connor, Michaela, and everybody else…

Let me know what you think of How To Get Away With Murder in the comments section! And flail with me over tonight’s episode. FLAIL.

  • Order_of_the_Coitus

    Don’t let this show fool you all. It’s nothing like real law school…

    Law school is such a total scam: it’s a scam to make greedy law profs and administrators rich off your federal student loans. DO NOT GO unless $200,000+ in non-dischargeable debt, no job, and living in your parents’ basement is your idea of fun.

    Google “Law School Lemmings”