In September, I mapped out my fall TV schedule. What I failed to mention, of course, was the fact that I also tend to pick up a new show or two every year. I try to resist, lest my DVR blow a gasket, but television dramas are at the top of their game lately and it’s hard to ignore the buzz.
That is especially true this season with the addition of the Viola Davis law/crime thriller “How To Get Away With Murder” to ABC’s Thursday night line-up, now dubbed #TGIT (Thank God It’s Thursday). HTGAWM caps off “Shonda Rhimes night,” at 10 p.m., following Grey’s Anatomy at 8 and Scandal at 9. Rhimes is arguably one of the most influential showrunners of her era, using powerhouse black actresses to create strong female characters. But she doesn’t take kindly to those two identifiers, as illustrated in this late October excerpt from The Hollywood Reporter:
“In early August, Shonda Rhimes read a draft announcement for an event where she was set to appear. It called her ‘the most powerful black female showrunner in Hollywood.’ She crossed out ‘female’ and ‘black’ and sent it back […] she didn’t believe either modifier was necessary—or relevant. ‘They wouldn’t say that someone is ‘the most powerful white male showrunner in Hollywood,’’ she contends […] ‘I find race and gender to be terribly important; they’re terribly important to who I am. But there’s something about the need for everybody else to spend time talking about it […] that pisses me off.’”
She instead allows her shows, particularly her characters, to speak for themselves. Annalise Keating (Davis) joins the ranks of Scandal’s no-nonsense Olivia Pope (played by Kerry Washington), Grey’s Anatomy’s tough cookie Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson), and many other key players from her primetime dramas.
And everyone is indeed talking about it. I’ve been a fan of Viola Davis since her heart-breaking—but electrifying—performance as Aibileen Clark in 2011’s “The Help.” The promos looked interesting. I hesitated to invest in yet another ensemble drama, but because I’ve never had a decent crime or courtroom drama in my repertoire, I gave it the pilot test. It was clear within the first five minutes that I made the right choice to follow the buzz—and my instincts about good television.
To ensure maximum audience involvement, the plot thickens before we even meet the main character. It becomes evident that we’ll be solving a murder mystery involving one of their own via flash-forwards behind the scenes of this introduction to a new crop of law students in Philly’s (fictional) Middleton University and Professor Annalise Keating’s Criminal Law 100 (or as she prefers to call it—you guessed it—“How To Get Away With Murder”).
Keating selects a handful of wide-eyed baby lawyers to intern for her firm each year, and with the chosen few revealed at the end of the pilot, we know with whom we’ll be spending our time this season.
The cast isn’t all unfamiliar faces (for me). I immediately recognized “the puppy” Wes Gibbins as none other than Harry Potter’s Dean Thomas AKA Alfred Enoch. Matt McGorry, who plays Asher Millstone—the resident jughead—is CO John Bennett in OITNB. Keating’s wing-woman Bonnie Winterbottom is played by Liza Weil, whom I know as Rory’s gal pal Paris Geller in Gilmore Girls. And this one took some IMDb sleuthing, but my mind was blown to discover that Keating’s other associate, Frank Delfino the student seducer, played by Charlie Weber, was demi-god Glory’s better half in season five of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Even with a core cast of talent, it’s hard to take your eyes off Davis. She commands every scene she is in with authority and grace, and she’s bringing ground-breaking ideas to the table. One of the most talked about scenes of the season came from one of her suggestions: At the end of episode four entitled, “Let’s Get To Scooping,” Annalise strips off her tough exterior piece by piece—wig, lashes, and make-up—leaving herself vulnerable, but the most real we’ve yet seen her. She’s both vulnerable and defiant as she confronts her husband with a shocking revelation that ties him to the initial murder case that led to the one we’ve been tracking since the pilot. His involvement has been an undercurrent that’s been threading through the entire season so far.
The suspense of how the murder from the pilot came to be is about to be unraveled in the winter finale. I’ve been very generous with not giving away spoilers here, which probably makes most of this sound vague, but as I’m urging most of you to binge-watch in time for the back half’s premiere, it wouldn’t make sense to surrender any jaw-dropping plot points—and there have been quite a few! Each episode usually centers around a new law case, with flash-forwards book-ending the episode as a whole with further clues to the overall mystery. And each one closes with another explosive peek into what comes next.
I, for one, can’t wait to find out who killed whom and how on earth they’ll all move on from that point in the new year. Will there be more shocking deaths? More betrayals? Will the hits just keep on comin’ into a second season? It hasn’t yet received a sophomore pick-up, but as it continues to slay ratings week after week, I doubt we’ll have to wait long to find out. Join the party sooner rather than later—don’t say I didn’t warn you.