Are you looking for a boring murder procedural, without any unexpected twists and turns? Then you will be sorely disappointed by HtGAwM, because it is definitely better than that!
How to Get Away with Murder is a new ABC series from the producers of Scandal. It was hard to know what to expect, having never seen Scandal, but as a fan of shows like Law & Order: SVU, Bones, etc., expectations were high.
And blown away.
How well will this show will ultimately do? The pilot knocked it out of the park, and that bodes well. Unlike most murder mystery shows, this show breaks the fundamental unspoken rule that seems to be so important in every other mystery program: the main characters need to be unimpeachably honorable. Not so in HtGAwM.
The story is essentially this: the lead character, Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) is a no-holds-barred defense attorney who is also a professor at a prestigious Philadelphia law school. The classroom is The Paper Chase meets, for want of a better example, Mad Men. Keating is both Charles Kingsford and Don Draper. Tough. Relentless. Demanding. Sexual. Mysterious. Secretive. And definitely not the hero. At least, not in the traditional sense. Keating instead is an example of choosing an ethic and sticking to it. And we see it all along the way.
Joining her are a group of students, the ones who show the most promise by actually helping her defend her client in their first week of class. For free. In the hopes of getting to work with her. Is there no conflict of interest? It doesn’t matter, because scene after scene flows so well. The characters are adeptly played, although it’s pretty obvious from the outset who the prize students will be. Nothing clever there. And yet – still love it.
Another thing that’s great about the pilot is that there are no superfluous moments. A lot of shows throw in little moments just to make time pass, or force in character development. The recently reviewed Taxi Brooklyn is very guilty of this. But HtGAwM never wastes a scene; even if it seems like some bit of dialog is just there for character development, it’s reincorporated to move the story forward. So great.
To tell more would really spoil both the plot and the experience, but know this: the show is serial, not sterilely episodic. And that’s where the only real concern comes in: it’s hard to tell how they will stretch this past a single season. That will be the producers’ challenge, because right now, this looks like at most a 26 episode series. If they are brave enough to do that, kudos. It’s worked for the BBC, and we all know how much American TV likes to borrow from them.
In any case, it will be hard to wait to see what comes next. Get in on the ground floor; it looks like it will be worth it.
How to Get Away with Murder
ABC Thursdays, 10/9 Central
8 out of 10 torts (because of concern about longevity, some obvious storytelling)
Eliot has been orbiting show business for over 20 years as an improv comedian, video director, and general guy you might barely recognize. Currently best known for his work on the comedy podcast Never Not Funny: The Jimmy Pardo Podcast. He wrote previously for MacEdition.com, and is working on a collection of short sci-fi and weird tales that will probably be published someday. He is also one of three principals in Modest Games.