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How to Get Away with Murder and get A’s in Criminal Law 100 (TV Review)

viola davis-how to get away with murderThe main stage for How to Get Away With Murder is a
university lecture hall full of bright, eager, first-year, first-day law
students.  

Defense Attorney Annalise Keating (Viola
Davis) is the brilliant Criminal Law Professor we all love to love and love to
hate. Fairly bristling with a bravados that provokes both fear and respect from
her youthful charges, she lets them know, right off, that hers is not a
classroom of theory, discussion and debate; rather she believes in practical
application.

“Unlike many of my colleagues, I
will not be teaching you how to study the law or theorize about it, but rather
how to practice it… in a courtroom, like a real lawyer,” Keating tells them.

She begins by handing them an actual case—one that’s hers—and charges them to come up with a defense to match or
surpass her own. It’s a contest and the prize is a plum: a position in her firm
for whomever comes up with the most innovative or impressive alternative defense.

alfred gibbins wesley gibbinsThe message?

“Don’t play for safety. It’s the most
dangerous thing in the world.”        
 Hugh
Walpole

The students are in. No
one wants to be left behind, but there are a few hundred in the class and only
four available positions.  They want to
do well…for themselves, but more than that; they want to do well for her. 

With such an air of complete self-assuredness
it’s understood, before we see her take one step into the courtroom, Keating wins way more than she loses. Ms. Davis is strong, direct and uncompromising as
the professor and one gets why she engenders immediate loyalty from her
students.

As an attorney wanna-be, it’s not enough to be like Keating. One of the student’s whispers she wants to “be” Keating.

On the rare occasion she finds herself
on the down side of a verdict she’s sure to be as hard on herself as she is those
around her. This isn’t shown in the debut episode, but there are hints at it.

Because of course, it wouldn’t be much
of a show if there wasn’t a “but.” Her personal life is too muddy for comfort.
Her relationship with her husband almost seems like an agreed upon subterfuge and
an uncomfortable encounter with a student borders on creepiness.

Oh yes and then there’s the murder.
No spoilers here as we’re made aware there’s been one from the top of the show. What we don’t know is who, what or why. This murder is, in a sense, extracurricular credit for us, the viewing public. It’s outside of the classroom
assignment and we’ll be kept guessing through the entire season, I’m sure.

Season One, Episode One—The Wrap Up: The setup
is not unlike the approach taken with Grey’s
Anatomy
, which followed a group of interns from their first day on the job
at Seattle Grace; a well-established teaching hospital with a first-rate
surgical staff, complete with egos to match.

It charged onto our TV screens in
2005 and had everyone’s tongues wagging around the water cooler from day one.
It’s made careers, reinvigorated others and creator/producer Shonda Rhime’s name became one with the household.

Murder
doesn’t have the same visceral punch as Grey’s.
The premise—learning about the law through the trials and travails of
students acting on behalf of a demanding law prof—is clever but the first
episode lacked a certain freshness; hardly noticeable due to Michael Offer’s brisk
direction and the show’s sharp editing.  

aja naomi king jack falahee karla souza

The filmmakers (some Grey’s alum) have given us another winning factor: characters to either
identify with or like.  Ms. Davis, certainly
delivers a quality performance. And Murder exec producer Rhimes, with creator/writer Peter Nowalk gifted her a terrific
cast to work with: Wesley Gibbins (Alfred Enoch), Connor Walsh (Jack Falahee), Michaela
Pratt (Aja Naomi King), and Laurel Castillo (Karla Souza). These four are the
core of the student team who stumble upon the horrific something that binds
them. Individually unique, they make for an entertaining, complex pack. I was already
rooting for them by the end; even Connor whose brashness has got to be hiding
something cool.  

There is much to steer away from here
in order to keep the secrets safe for your viewing enjoyment, but this is one
to watch and keep tabs on.  Subsequent strong storylines
to support an excellent cast will keep it in good stead for Thursday Night
Rhime’s triple featurettes: Grey’s
Anatomy, Scandal
and Murder.

Also in the acting lineup are Detective
Nate Lahey (Billy Brown), Rebecca Dixon (Katie Findlay), Asher Millstone (Matt
McGorry), Frank Delfino (Charlie Weber), Bonnie Winterbottom (Liza Weil).

Watch How to Get Away with
Murder
, Thursday, September 25, 10pm, ET/PT on ABC.

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