Rhimes produces TV success once again

The new ABC legal drama “How To Get Away With Murder,” written by “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy” writers Shonda Rhimes and Peter Nowalk, has received high praise from numerous critics, and the acclaim is well deserved. Fast paced, gripping and full of dynamic characters, the series, which has aired two episodes thus far, has a lot of promise.

Surprisingly reminiscent of “Legally Blonde­”—a much darker, more serious version—the show is set at the fictional Middleton University, a law school in Philadelphia, and the bulk of the action takes place surrounding four students—Wes Gibbins, Michaela Pratt, Connor Walsh and Lauren Castillo—and their criminal law professor Annalise Keating. These students are chosen from the class to work with their professor on her defense cases, and the tense atmosphere around them is full of high ambition and unforgiving competition. The cast is diverse and extremely talented, featuring new faces as well as many old ones. “Harry Potter” fans may recognize Alfred Enoch, who played Dean Thomas in the films and plays the male lead Wes on the show. Liza Weil, best known for her role as Paris Geller in “Gilmore Girls,” plays Bonnie Winterbottom, one of Annalise’s associates. But the shining star of the show, giving an exceptional performance as the brilliant Annalise Keating, is actress Viola Davis, who, after playing many smaller roles in various TV shows and films such as “The Help” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” has finally gotten the lead role she deserves.

When it comes to representation, “How To Get Away With Murder” excels like few other shows do. Three of the lead characters, Annalise, Wes and Michaela, are black and there is also a Latina woman­, Lauren, as well as a gay white man, Connor. The female characters are diverse in personality, ranging from quiet and ethical to assertive and merciless. Through certain lines—Lauren calls one of Annalise’s associates a “misogynistic pig” and Michaela calls out a white male, saying (sarcastically), “Because all black people are related,”—the show tackles a number of social issues.

The plot of “How To Get Away With Murder” jumps back and forth between present day, when (spoiler alert) the four students have supposedly murdered someone and are trying to bury the evidence, and three months earlier, when they had just started law school and were working on cases alongside their professor. The pilot episode presents a case in which a married man’s assistant—who also happens to be his mistress—allegedly murdered him. In the second episode, the characters have to defend a man who allegedly murdered his second wife. In the midst of all this is another murder—one of a sorority girl at Middleton itself. The characters are all involved with these cases and with each other in complicated and often confusing ways, and it is hard to keep track of all the murders, plot twists, secrets and scandals that are shown within only two episodes.

The incredibly intriguing show keeps me on my toes, but it can also be too fast-paced. Overcomplicated and confusing plots aren’t uncommon in the first few episodes of a TV show in this particular genre, but I hope the show will slow down in the coming episodes and delve deeper into some of the major plot lines and, more importantly, into its captivating and multifaceted characters.

Although we certainly don’t know the full story behind any of them yet, the show presents a wide range of interesting characters. When asked which student Annalise should send to obtain an important file, Bonnie answers, “Send the puppy,” referring to Wes, and that is a very accurate description of him. Awkward, good-hearted and endearingly naïve, Wes is perhaps the most clueless and least highly charged of the students, but also the most likable of the characters. Michaela and Connor both have similar personalities—they are ambitious, competent, confident and constantly try to do outdo each other in winning Annalise’s favor. Lauren is a little more like Wes—quiet, idealistic and more concerned about ethics than anyone else, often finding herself torn between her job helping Annalise and her own morals.

The most fascinating of all the characters, though, is Annalise. She is intimidating, blunt, ruthless, fierce, manipulative and, best of all, morally dubious. She hates losing cases, regardless of whether the client she is defending is innocent or not. She is incredibly tough on her students,and has almost unreachable expectations of them. But she isn’t simply a caricature—she can also be vulnerable and emotional and makes mistakes like most people. To me, Wes is the most likable as a character but Annalise is undoubtedly the most well written, in no small part due to Viola Davis’ shining performance. Aside from Wes and Annalise, I’m also very captivated by Michaela, and I hope that the show goes deeper into her character in future episodes, as she’s one of the least developed at the moment.

In addition to its enthralling plot and great set of characters, the show wrestles with the topics of morality and ethics. The two clients Annalise has defended so far were both guilty of awful things, but she didn’t care. She had a job to get done, and she did it. Similarly, Connor is willing to do anything—and sleep with anyone—in order to get the information he needs to support the case. None of the characters are completely good or completely bad, and the tangled web of the various murders ensures that almost every character—even doe eyed Wes and timid Lauren—is a suspect for something and has secrets hidden somewhere.

My final verdict is, “How To Get Away With Murder” is an engrossing new gem that will keep you at the edge of your seat at every second. It has some flaws and isn’t quite aired yet but has the potential to be one of the best new shows currently airing.

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