There’s nothing nice about murder.
How To Get Away With Murder
Thursdays at 10 p.m.
Any time we dive into the characters and plot in a murder mystery we enter into a world of secrets, lies, violence, passion and as Raymond Chandler once wrote in his essay “The Simple Art of Murder,” “the frustration of the individual, and hence a frustration of the race.”
We’ve played these games before. We’ve watched the shows, read the books and played games of guess-who until the final third-act revelation.
The point is that viewers have much higher standards for crime shows than they used to. They need to be surprised, enamored, disturbed, entertained, intrigued and drawn in until the very last scene. We know the game, and we know the rules to play it by. Creator Peter Nowalk and executive producer Shonda Rhimes have played as well, and like the enigmatic Professor Annalise Keating (Viola Davis, “The Help”) they play much better than we do.
The show begins with four law students at a prestigious university, panicking. They are in the woods somewhere, trying to figure out how best to hide all of the evidence linking them to someone’s murder — the identity of whom is withheld until the very end of the episode.
Then flash back three months earlier. New student Wes Gibbins (Alfred Enoch, the “Harry Potter” series) walks into a class with legendary law professor and defense attorney Annalise Keating. You have to imagine Annalise and Olivia Pope from “Scandal” having a Kenobi-Luke Skywalker relationship once upon a time, though this doesn’t take place in the same arena as Pope’s Gladiators (so far as we know). Annalise, however, is far more dubious than Rhimes’s anti-heroine. It’s also what makes her dangerous. She might have come from the same house that made “Grey’s Anatomy” but Keating would find her wits far more matched by the likes of Claire Underwood from “House of Cards” than Meredith Grey. Or for that matter, even Olivia Pope.
One scene involves Wes walking in on Professor Keating in quite possibly the most awkward situation you could imagine for any student. He finds out that his professor is having an affair with another man. When she confronts him about it, she shows just how sly she can be, convincing both Wes and the viewer of her struggling marriage. It’s later in the courtroom, however, when we find out the affair might very well be just another tool Keating was using to manipulate the case to her favor, exploiting her lover, a cop, by undermining his testimony and ruining the case of the prosecution. “I want to be her,” one of the students proclaims.
Needless to say, Davis steals the show. Keating definitely looks to be one of the breakout characters of the fall and Davis brings the performance you’d expect from an actress of her caliber. Davis manages to craft a character that’s charismatic, admirable, flawed, tough, manipulative, brilliant, sly and everything else you’ve ever felt about that favorite professor of yours who knows a little too much to be nice.
The show’s still young and has a lot of room for improvement. Hopefully, the show chooses to focus more on Keating than the students.
However, the minor plot issues aside, Rhimes, Norwalk and company definitely seem to have found a great vessel for the stylized, soap and pulp that Rhimes is a master of forming into high entertainment. Like the days of Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler himself, this seems to be a series focused not on simple whodunnits but on the underlying foundations for why and how people commit murder: love, jealousy, passion and revenge. As Miss Marple once said, “there’s never anything simple about murder.” Professor Keating would more than agree.