I’m a legal genre junkie. I absolutely love books, movies, and TV shows involving lawyers and courtroom drama, and thus I devour books by John Grisham, Greg Iles, and Scott Turow, feast on films like “Anatomy of a Murder,” “The Verdict,” “A Time to Kill,” and “A Few Good Men,” (I even liked “Legally Blonde.”), and immerse myself in such TV shows as “The Practice,” “Murder One,” “Boston Legal,” “Damages,” and “The Good Wife.”
Of course the classic novel in the genre is Harper Lee’s magnificent “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and if I had to choose a film that epitomizes movies dealing with the law, I would pick 1973’s “The Paper Chase,” based upon John Jay Osborn Jr.’s novel of the same name and starring the late John Houseman as the indomitable Professor Kingsfield at Harvard Law School. The film also spawned a TV series that ran for four seasons beginning in 1978.
The legal TV shows I mentioned earlier are among the best ever, but I am going to predict that “How to Get Away with Murder” ultimately will take its rightful place alongside of those in the TV Legal Dramas Hall of Fame.
This new show is set at a prestigious law school in Philadelphia, where on the first day of the new term legendary Professor Annalise Keating strides boldly into a packed lecture hall and says, “Good morning. I don’t what terrible things you’ve done in your life up to this point, but clearly your karma is out of balance to get you assigned to my class. I’m Professor Annalise Keating. This is Criminal Law 100, or as I prefer to call it How to Get Away with Murder. Unlike many of my colleagues I will not be teaching you how to study the law or theorize about it but rather how to practice it in a courtroom like a real lawyer.”
Now from this point on, my comments are going to be intentionally somewhat vague because the pilot for the series contains several OMG moments, and I don’t want to give them away. In addition to being a hard-nosed professor, Annalise also is a brilliant practicing defense attorney, and this affords her students the opportunity to become involved in her cases by observing her in action. In fact she even allows a select few of them to help he obtain crucial information during one of her trials.
But the show offers much more than classroom and courtroom drama, and this is what makes it so riveting. It also achieves a nice blend of drama and humor, and the acting is consistently outstanding. Davis is absolutely fantastic as a female version of Kingsfield, and in an online interview with Kristin Dos Santos executive producer Peter Nowalk (“Scandal”) talked about casting Davis in the role.
“I wanted to create someone who was enigmatic and controversial and dark. I think people are much darker than we give them credit for on TV. I think when people are put in extreme situations, they are much darker and do shocking things and it doesn’t make them bad people.
“I don’t write from a place of clarity. I don’t want people to feel clear all the time. Viola has said, ‘People don’t function that way,’ and I completely agree. I think they’re weird and unpredictable. And they might be nice one minute and mean the next. We’re emotional animals. So just the fact that Viola Davis is willing to go to that weirdo place, makes me be able to write the world. I can do so many more things than I could have if it were an actress who felt the need to be liked.
“What’s awesome is the network did not ever give me one note in making Annalise clearer or making her more specific about her mission here. And that’s why getting Viola has been this lucky opportunity, aside from the fact that she’s Viola and can do anything in the world, like literally I want her to be president. Every episode we’re going to get unexpected and weird moments where people will say, ‘I don’t get why she’s doing that!’ And I am so lucky to have an actress who’s willing to go with that.”
Indeed Davis, who has two Oscar nominations to her credit, seems as if she were born to play the part of Annalise. In an online interview with Tracy Phillips of Celebrity the actress spoke about the uniqueness of her role and what she likes about her character.
“There is no way in the history of film or TV that you’ve seen a character like this, played by a black woman who looks like me. This is progressive. This is a first. Not even Kerry Washington or Halle Berry, not anyone — [but] a black woman who looks like me — a dark-skinned black woman, with the nose, the age, in every way, like me. No one has taken my look in that way and put that on the screen. I think Shonda’s (producer Shonda Rhimes) been the first.
“I’m excited to be a part of a show that has tons of secrets. And I love the fact that [Annalise] is messy and mysterious and you don’t know who she is. She’s messy. She’s a woman. She’s sexual. She’s vulnerable. And I feel extremely fortunate that I am alive and still active, and this role came to me at this point in my life.”
In addition to Davis, the key characters in the pilot are the four students Annalise chooses to work with her throughout the school year: Wes Gibbins (Alfred Enoch), Connor Walsh (Jack Falahee)
Michaela Pratt (Aja Naomi King), and Laurel Castillo (Karla Souza). All of the young actors here are exceptional in their respective parts, and they work beautifully with Davis.
If you missed the first episode of this show, I strongly suggest that you watch it on demand or online before you see the second installment because a number of important events occur that will be important throughout the series. From its opening scene until the shocking twist at the end, “How to Get Away with Murder” completely sucked me in, and I cannot wait for the next episode. Even though the show is in its infancy, Davis already has created a truly memorable character in Annalise, and it will be fascinating to see her develop.
As far as I’m concerned, a show set on a law school campus with an intriguing plot, several surprises, interesting characters, and outstanding acting definitely belongs on your must-watch list. And it should come as no surprise that the jury is no longer out on “How to Get Away with Murder,” which earns the final score of a unanimous 10. Don’t be guilty missing this one!