Mar 26, 2015

[TV] How to Get Away with Murder: Season 1

So I wanted to be really excited about this show when people started talking about it since the premise did seem pretty interesting. Plus there's the fact that it had gotten a lot of great social media buzz from day one so it was one of those shows that was just too difficult to ignore. And so we tuned in and eventually stayed involved enough to finish the whole season.

How to Get Away with Murder certainly has a compelling narrative involved and a sort of clever mystery at the heart of the story, but I think the characters needed work and the directing choices were just annoying. I'll get into why I feel this way at length in this review since it'll take a while.

But we still finished the show and I think I'm still open to watch the second season once it comes around. I'm not necessarily excited to do so and admittedly it took us a while before we finally finished watching the first season some time after the season finale aired. It may just be a matter of personal preference or maybe we're just not part of the core target demographic for this show.

Synopsis: How to Get Away With Murder is an ABC drama TV series created by Peter Nowalk. The show has had generally positive responses from critics and has received a few nods from LGBT-related awards groups.

The show introduces us to Professor Annalise Keating (Viola Davis), a famous defense attorney who also teaches at Middleton University. Every year she selects particular students to work at her law firm (I guess it's a special internship?) as they have proven they are among the best in the class. This year she has picked out Connor Walsh (Jack Jalahee), Michaela Pratt (Aja Naomi King), Asher Millstone (Matt McGorry), Laurel Castillo (Karla Souza), and surprisingly Wes Gibbins (Alfred Enoch). And thus they start to accompany Annalise on various criminal cases and learn how she has become one of the best criminal defense attorneys around.

But at a future time (which we should probably term as the present and treat the other stuff as a flashback), we find that the students are struggling to deal with a murder that they had somehow been involved in. Across the episodes we are shown more and more of the story as to what happened and how that future crime related to their past actions.

First, the show has a really strong initial premise built arond the sterling performance of Viola Davis more than anyone else in this show. She's a powerful actress and her professional persona in the show is really amazing. But then we have her secret personal side show to her husband and the fact that she's dealing with cancer (EDIT: A friend points out there is no evidence of this, I admit I'm assuming. Let's label this as "whatever reason she feels she needs to wear a wig in public" then.) and it was a weird dimension to things that could have been a chance to show her being strong in another way but more often than not she got really sappy. I think everyone loves Annalise in the courtroom or Annalise solving problems. But Annalise without her wig and crying in bed? That was sad on a number of levels.

She burdens herself with these kids that initially treat this whole experience in the same way the younger doctors and Grey's Anatomy do - unprofessionally and with a lot of sleeping around. At least Connor sort of uses his sexual prowess as a tool to get what he needs, but that sort of fades over time since he falls in love with one of his early marks.

But my biggest issue will always be with Wes, who is positioned largely as the show's male lead. He's a horrible character and I don't see how the cutthroat Annalise would give him a pass into her special working group. And all the issues that the group eventually faces seem to tie all back to Wes being an idiot. He doesn't even look like he'd be smart enough to be a law student, but I know that's already a bit too mean of me. I can't help it - he just has this rather blank, unfocused stare that makes me feel a little unsettled.

The part of each episode focused on a case and how the defense team figures out how to get the defendant cleared is where the show shines. There's some pretty clever investigative work involved. Sure, not all their solutions are perfectly legal, but it sort of makes sense in the context of the show and the nature of the characters.

But then we get to the "present day" sequences that show us the crew facing major problems. The flashes aren't in sequence, and that's fine. But the way the flashes are tailored is pretty shallow. I'm talking about the director really holding the hands of the audience by spoonfeeding them information and making sure they don't forget anything. Every little clue or detail that had already been show clearly will be repeatedly flashed on screen later on, every time it's relevant. There's no need to remember any major details since we're always going to go back to repeated instant replay flashback moments in darkly lit shots.

So How to Get Away with Murder really tears me in two and maybe I'm expecting too much from any drama that tries to involve the law somehow. It has a few good characters and a lot of really annoying ones and our lead heroine makes a lot of weird, ridiculous decisions. Thus the show gets 3 fast-paced, jump cut sex scenes out of a possible 5.

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