Producer Shonda Rhimes now owns a monopoly on Thursday night ABC. Her hit series Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal are now followed by a new show “How to Get Away with Murder“. Although she did not create or write this series but only is executive producer, it fits right in with her other types of shows. Namely strong women (two out of three black) who are in powerful positions and who live in worlds where plot twists are everyday occurrences. However I’m not sure this one is going to live up to the standards of the previous two. It is written and created by Peter Norwalk whose only leather credits include co-executive producer and writer for other Shondaland productions.
Viola Davis plays Annalise Keating is a criminal defense attorney and a law professor. Davis is best known for her Oscar nominated performances in the films The Help and Doubt. In the opening episode her character recruits five of her top students to work in her law firm on real cases. The open classroom scene is such a ripoff of The Paper Chase that I can’t believe they actually did it. It’s the tough law professor who ambushes a student on the first day when he didn’t realize that they had already been given homework before the class even started. Either that happens in every law classroom so it is an ordinary occurrence or they just ripped it off. But the comparisons stop right there. Keating is no Professor Kingsfield. She also isn’t the sort of idealistic good guy lawyer that we are used to seeing on TV. Before the episode is over we see her get stolen illegally obtained evidence admitted in court. And after she calls to the witness stand a police officer with whom she is having an affair and ambushes him into saying that he has seen police corruption that could exonerate her client, you’re left wondering whether she simply used her pillow talk knowledge of his day-to-day work to her advantage or if she actually coerced him into committing perjury. I guess time will tell in future episodes.
The show also uses the gimmick of telling the story in two different timelines. It starts out with five college students trying to decide what to do with a dead body and a murder weapon. Then it flashes back three months to their first day in her class and that’s when we discover that they are her new interns. The story flips back and forth between the two timelines throughout the opening episode and the way things are going we can expect to see that same manner of disjointed storytelling. It was innovative when they did it in the Glenn Close lawyer show Damages but it made the plot more confusing. It does keep you guessing what’s going to happen next and how you’re going to get from here to there but after a while he gets to be really annoying in my opinion and I’m not looking forward to it in this series. There are times when flashbacks, flashforwards and parallel timelines make for interesting storytelling but I’m not convinced this is going to be one.
For that time being I’m going to give it a couple more episodes so I guess technically my rating is “Could Be Watchable”. But there are better lawyer shows on the air such as The Good Wife, Suits, and if you can classify it as such Scandal. Although I’m not reviewing existing shows, I will say here that the season premiere of Scandal really hit the ground running and continued at the phenomenal quality it has had in previous years. If you like political intrigue and have not seen this show, by all means check out Scandal. And if you got some spare space on the DVR in time to watch it then try this murder show and see if it is to your taste. Just don’t expect the usual Shonda Rhimes quality.