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Wednesday, 15 October 2014

How to get Away with Murder: A look at the USA's latest hit


Before sitting in front of your telly to watch How to Get Away with Murder, one of the most highly anticipated new shows in America, this reviewer urges viewers to invest in a white board and a neck brace.  HTGAWM or Murder, for those of you who are social media savvy, is a fast paced ensemble that enjoys dropping bits of information that fit together to form a twisted puzzle.  Murder is part legal procedural, part drama set in a hyper-realistic world that will appeal to fans of BBC’s Luther.  Individuals who have seen previews for HTGAWM may make comparisons with Kerry Washington’s Scandal. Both shows are produced by Shonda Rhimes creator of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy.  However, Murder was created by Peter Nowalk one of Shonda Rhimes’ lieutenants.

Viola Davis (Doubt and The Help) stars as criminal law professor Annalise Keating.  Keating has Martha Costello’s (Silk) drive for wining cases combined with John Luther’s ferociousness.  Annalise pushes herself (and her assistants) to the edge in order to win a case, whether the client is innocent or guilty.  Unlike Martha Costello, Annalise Keating does not worry about the grey area a defense attorney straddles.  Keating is willing to suppress evidence and use evidence gained in an unlawful manner without shedding a tear.  Annalise Keating could easily match John Luther’s ability to intimidate others; she demolishes clients, students, and associates with ease.  Even her husband Sam Keating (actor and Scandal producer Tom Verica) and her boyfriend Nate Leahy (Dexter’s Billy Brown) recognize that Annalise is a force of nature.  Not only do Annalise’s first year law students fear her, but they also idolize Keating.  Though Viola Davis does not possess Idris Elba’s physicality, the actress’ eyes and other facial expressions makes the audience believe that Annalise Keating is a juggernaut.    

Amongst the students taking Professor Keating’s law class is actor Alfred Enoch (Wes Gibbins) who played Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter films.  Enoch’s character quickly finds out Middleton Law School is not Hogwarts.  His classmates are rivals all vying for Professor Keating’s approval and for positions at her law firm.  Wes’ classmates employ tricks to get ahead in class and in the courtroom that would make Draco Malfoy blush.  This reviewer does not recall Draco (or any other Slytherins) seducing people or pretending to be physicians in order to obtain valuable information.  Nor did Dean Thomas ever walk in on Professor McGonagall being pleased orally.  

HTGAWM’s pilot is overflowing with characters and plot twists.  The writer (and creator) Peter Nowalk simplifies the introduction process by focusing in on a character’s specific trait.  Though Murder is a legal procedure Nowalk does not forget that many of its characters are students.  Michaela Pratt (Aja Naomi King) is the overachiever and perfectionist; Laurel Castillo (Karla Souza) is the idealist who comes from a working class family.  Asher Millstone (Orange Is the New Black’s Matt McGorry) is not shy about flaunting his family’s wealth and political connections.  Actor Jack Falahee plays the resident slick and sleazy guy, Conner Walsh.  Even Wes is assigned a character type; he portrays the likeable guy next door who is possibly a tad na├»ve.

Murder like other procedural/drama hybrids employs a gimmick; this show uses flash-forwards to help keep the series’ central mystery moving along while dealing with the case of the week.  The flash-forwards are great for creating dramatic tension but they can confuse viewers, hence the need for the white board and markers.  The creators took a huge gamble employing the flash-forwards so early in the first episode.  They expected the audience to care about the character’s when they have not been fully introduced yet.  Flash-forwards can easily kill the momentum being built in the present day sequences if not used judiciously.  Whether an individual loves or hates flash-forwards, they are skillfully utilized during HTGAWM’s pilot.  The transitions between present and future were visually seamless and slightly artistic. Credit must be given to the production team including Director Michael Offer, who also directed episodes of Silk. 

How to Get Away with Murder is not mumsy television!  Annalise Keating does not appear to be the cuddly type unless you are a muscular individual willing to pleasure her orally.  Keating not only commands respect but can also strike fear into an individual.  Actress Viola Davis knows she is portraying a very complicated individual but remembers to show occasional glimpses of humanity.  Ensemble shows not only succeed or fail because of its lead but also the individuals surrounding the main character.  The first episode laid the ground work for building up HTGAWM’s supporting characters.  Putting Alfred Enoch’s Wes out front initially was a smart move because the actor is recognizable.  Enoch employs the distinct facial expressions his used throughout the Harry Potter films.  I am sure someone has created a GIF or Tumblr page that compares Wes Gibbons and Dean Thomas.

This reviewer has seen the first three episodes of Murder and believes the ‘case of the week’ helps to develop the characters in the present, while the overarching mystery unfolds in the flash forwards.  ABC (HTGAWM’s American transmitter) recently picked-up the show for a fifteen episode first series; the show was originally given thirteen episodes.  Given how the central mystery is threaded throughout each episode, it will be interesting to see whether or not the additional episodes will impact the story’s pacing.  Based on the quality of the episodes so far I believe the network’s faith in Murder has been justified.  Telly watchers looking for a byzantine show should add How to Get Away with Murder to their television viewing schedule.

How to Get Away with Murder will eventually air in the UK

Contributed by Mo Walker 

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