Confession Time: Law does not interest me. In fact, I’d be more likely to gouge my eyeballs than watch a legal procedural show (then again, both are essentially the same thing). Murder, however, does interest me. I suppose that, with a title like How to Get Away with Murder, it’s the best of both worlds.
So, grudgingly, I sat down to watch the series première. The premise is simple: an ABC drama, produced by Shonda Rhimes (of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy fame), about a law professor whose students are involved in a murder plot. So, of course, I expected chalkboard and classroom. I expected stern professor and intense students. I expected a case per episode, with a clean resolution at the end.
I got that. Sort of.
More importantly, I was hooked.
With an opening sequence akin to an action movie, and the anxious atmosphere of a horror piece, the drama exudes the phrase “Draw you in and never let go.” Flipping between the past and present, Murder first introduces our four leads running through a dark forest, dead body and murder weapon in hand, arguing over what they should do next. Their terrified faces are immediately juxtaposed by a swift transition to their past selves: anxious, confused and hopeful for their first day of law school.
We see them as the caricatures of typical law student stereotypes: the Bravado, found in Asher Millstone (Matt McGorey); the Stuck-Up, found in Michaela Pratt (Aja Naomi King); the Need-To-Succeed, found in Laurel Castillo (Karla Souza); and the Naïve, found in Wes Gibbins (Alfred Enoch). Their one-dimensional personalities would be off-putting if it wasn’t for the fact that their terrified future selves appear significantly more human. For now, it’s nice to see them as innocents: their only worry is just to survive class.
Enter Professor Annalise Keating (Viola Davis), whose cold professionalism and demanding demeanor does nothing to soothe their fears. She makes it clear that her expectations are high as she snappily declares her course title: “Criminal Law 100,” or “How to Get Away with Murder.”
Now, it’s known that Rhimes’ female leads are normally strong and outwardly ferociously independent, yet internally emotionally dependent on a man (or two). As the episode progresses, it’s clear that Keating possesses all the strengths and none of the insecurities. With a polished cold demeanor, brutally efficient speech, and a supreme mastery of “The Stare,” the law professor’s only flaw seems to be her inability to appear human. She and her superstar team of graduate students balance both the demands of teaching and maintaining an efficient private practice. In both classroom and practice, the lesson is one in the same: willingness to do whatever it takes to swing the case in their favor.
And yes, that includes a lot of sex.
Affairs and back door dealings abound as Keating presents a case to her class that she herself is working on: the suspected poisoning of a high powered business man by his mistress, who also happens to be his secretary (of course). The stakes are high: grades are secondary to the demanding professor’s approval as they find evidence to support the case.
The procedural is mixed with the drama as the students’ first attempts at legal work are contrasted with their efforts to cover up their future crime. There are hints of a conspiracy throughout the episode: constant references to a missing college girl that Murder makes clear is tied to the students’ future crime.
By the end of the episode, questions really start to stack up: about the case, the murder, and the people. The answers to the how, when, and all-important why are, not surprisingly, few and hazy. But one thing is absolutely clear: for all its clichés, I will definitely be watching again.
Grade: A – It’s a drama to die for.