When I reviewed Scandal, I basically related the idea that I thought few shows had ever been as convinced of the general stupidity of the viewing public, but I’d also like to buy stock in it. How to Get Away with Murder is clear evidence that I was unaware just how far that envelope could be pushed.
The show is created and written by Pete Nowalk, also of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal fame, and Shonda Rhimes serves as executive producer, but it’s her name you’re going to hear pushed.
The series opens with four people frantically trying to decide what to do about the murder they’ve committed, and they’re doing it on campus during a huge pre-football celebration that sees drunk students roaming everywhere. They’re torn about whether they should go back and move the body, and what they should do with the murder weapon. We jump back to three months before these events and learn that these four people are law students, who are all in Annalise Keating’s (Viola Davis) class. It’s a criminal defense class, but she likes to call it How to Get Away with Murder.
On the first day of class (and given that one student claims he was only recently accepted from the wait list, the first day of law school), Annalise lays out the facts of a murder case, and then reveals that they aren’t “studying” the case, because this is a case that she recently accepted, and the class will be helping her work it. She also throws out the bomb that every year she chooses four students to work for her firm, and this case will serve as the job interview. While the class piles into her office to listen to the interview with the client, and subsequently joins Annalise in the courtroom for the trial, she’ll be watching for the students who show they’ve got what it takes to be of value to her. This creates a variety of hurdles for the students, including, as one points out, when Annalise demands they be in court at 9:00 in the morning, because they have other classes. Annalise’s quick, and Gordon Gecko-esque response is that you either show up, or you’re out of the competition.
At this point, you at least have to respect the show for being honest with you, and laying all its cards on the table within the first fifteen minutes. This is already the most ludicrous theory put forward by anything on television (with the possible exception of certain Syfy original movies), and we haven’t even gotten to the “good stuff.”
It isn’t enough that we’re completely in a fantasy world already, and don’t forget that we know these students killed someone, but, much like Scandal, the show also has a seven-minute rule, which demands that there is only so long we’re allowed to go without someone having sex, or otherwise revealing some inane “drama,” that “changes everything!” Of course, it’s often both.
The plot through the pilot develops as the students try to come up with anything that can be used to make sure Annalise gets her not guilty verdict, no matter what it takes, or how ridiculous it will turn out that Annalise, or her crew, didn’t think of it already. This moves along with the general character of Annalise that is being laid before us, which basically adds up to all the “Defense attorneys are rat bastards” jokes rolled up into one person who embodies all the punchlines.
But, there’s a little more to things than meets the eye, and while it may seem like power attorney and professor Annalise has it all, and has everything under control (that’s what the script notes say, but it actually doesn’t seem anything like that at all), she has her problems as well, including a marriage that isn’t all it seems from the outside, and… well, no, that’s pretty much it really. She’s a sociopath and a bitch to an extant that is largely just silly, and her marriage isn’t going so well, which is oh so hard to understand, and that’s exactly how she seems. It’s just that there are some people in the show who think of her as having it all, or having something, or otherwise being worthy of envy, but what they mean is simply that she’s a sociopathic bitch. After all, that’s how you get ahead in life… or whatever.
Every next step is built on a progression of “guilty pleasure” run to the most bizarre degree, and, as I also said of Scandal, it’s work that would get laughed at by a soap opera (and I mean the ones where demons show up). By the time the pilot ends, you have to think that the overriding mission of the script is to make itself SNL-proof by already being the furthest extreme of satirizing itself. “I dare you to spin this into something more stupid,” says the show to the panel of comedy writers it has on the payroll, and the stunned reply is, “Nah, Dude, you’re all set.”
All that said, the one positive that has to be mentioned is that the entire cast is doing good work. It’s probably difficult to see, because there is a point at which it becomes tricky to work out whether or not actors and actresses are performing well in something that is so hilariously stupid, but I was convinced that all of these people have the ability to deliver. Unfortunately, this is a show that also makes it difficult to avoid losing a lot of respect for those who are willing to take part. You can let that slide for a lot of the younger stars here, many of whom don’t have a lot of credits to their name, but Viola Davis is making a joke of herself by signing on. Is she doing a good job playing a joke character in a show that has little interest in anything other than laughing at the, “You’re so stupid that you’re actually watching this,” public? Well, yes, she is. Hurray for her.
In the end, all you need to know about the show is that if you’re up for tuning in for the second episode, this is now your favorite show ever, but don’t tell anyone. Which of course means that I still wish I could buy stock in it.
I have to note that Shonda Rhimes was in the news recently because of a New York Times article, and the use in that article of the phrase “Angry Black Woman.” Wherever that article may have been trying to go, and whatever the response to it, what’s really amazing is that no one is taking Shonda Rhimes to task for so obviously believing that all women are so moronic that we must believe them to need help “working the picture box,” in order to tune in to the shows aimed at them.