Series Premiere: How to Get Away with Murder Kills It

How to Get Away with Murder is the best new show of the season.

Shonda Rhimes has built an empire on hour-long dramas. Grey’s Anatomy just started its 11th season, and Scandal is always one of the most talked about shows online. Both have their rabid fan bases, but people dismiss them as being pulpy, fizzy, and over-the-top. Hey, it’s television, so those words don’t have to always carry a negative connotation.  While new seasons of Grey’s and Scandal also debuted on Thursday night, the final hour of ABC’s Thank God It’s Thursday lineup might be the one that everyone is talking about. How to Get Away is addictive, and only one episode has aired.

The eager students of a prestigious Philadelphia law school pack themselves into a classroom for their first day at the beginning of the pilot episode. Some are cocky like Orange is the New Black’s Matt McGorry, but one student is very earnest: Wesley Gibbons, played by English actor (and unsung Harry Potter hottie) Alfred Enoch.  Their Criminal Law professor, Annalise Keating, struts into the room and would be able to intimidate anyone with just the way her heels click on the floor. It’s probably because Keating is played with the easy confidence and sexy bravado of Viola Davis.  Many people will be drawn to How to Get Away by just her presence, and she makes writing on a chalkboard absolutely enthralling.

Keating gives her students a hefty assignment on the first day. She is currently defending a secretary who is accused to poisoning the employer she was having an affair with. They are each to provide a one minute defense for the secretary, but none of the defenses can be the same. Keating uses this assignment to select four students to come work with her when classes end. Keating’s three-point defense plan includes discrediting the witnesses, introducing a new suspect, and burying the evidence.

It all sounds like a typical law show, no? This is where How to Get Away succeeds and completely draws you in. The episode begins with four of these law students taking care of a body rolled up in a rug. On the busiest night on the college’s campus, Wes is in Keating’s office with other top students Conner (Jack Falahee), Laurel (Karla Souza), and Michaela (Aja Naomi King) fighting over the steps on how to dispose of it. It cuts back and forth so quickly that we are left at the edge of our seats screaming, “what the hell is going on?!”  There is also an ongoing mystery of a missing sorority girl going on at the same time. Does it have something to do with Wes’ stand-offish neighbor?

Normally, a pilot with this much going on would be an absolute train wreck. A mystery here!  A mystery there! Courtroom drama! How to Get Away balances it with such ease and precision that you realize that you are watching the most confident and assured pilots of the season. It’s anchored by the absolutely brilliant Davis who has never really played a role like Annalise Keating on screen before. Davis recently said on The View that she has been offered (or played) a lot of oppressed women, and she was drawn to Keating because she has never been given the opportunity to play someone as bold or sexy before. Just when you think that Keating is just a tough law professor, Davis gently pulls back a layer of vulnerability in a scene with Enoch when he discovers a secret of hers. She’s one of the most compelling actresses working today, and the fact that we will see her dish it out every single week is absolutely thrilling. Her interaction with Enoch’s earnest Wes might also make you raise an eyebrow.

In 2004, ABC debuted the sudsy night time soap opera, Desperate Housewives. It became a huge hit, and the mysterious arc throughout the premiere season became the talk of that year. Even though Housewives and How to Get Away with Murder have absolutely nothing to do with each other, the premiere of Rhimes’ new drama reminded me of Housewives so much in terms of how people are reacting to it. It might turn into the most addictive show of the entire season.  You can call it sudsy, or trivial or fizzy.  I just call it compelling television.


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