The pilot episode of How to Get Away with Murder is the worst 42 minutes of television I’ve seen this year (and I’m an Atlanta Braves fan at the end of a losing season). Combining laughable courtroom theatrics with silly personal life melodrama, you will wonder if this series is actually a comedy and someone in marketing missed a memo.
Viola Davis plays Annalise Keating, a hotshot defense attorney who teaches criminal law. Each year she selects a handful of students to work at her hallowed firm and learn how to lie and cheat your way to success. That’s not a lawyer joke. Keating fabricates evidence, violates court procedures and commits a variety of felonies during the course of one trial and chalks it all up to good lawyering. I’m assuming this show could afford a legal consultant, and he/she drinks heavily on the job.
Interwoven with the “trial of the week” are flashforwards that leap three months into the future where four of Annalise’s students are franticly attempting to dispose of a body. Instead of simply leaving the body where it is, they wrap it up in a rug, drag it across campus through a pep rally and dump it in the woods where they prepare to set fire to it. Hmmm. Evidently, these four are the slow kids in class. The other option was leaving the body in Annalise’s office where they work all day and can easily explain away the presence of their fingerprints and DNA. But, who am I to question these brilliant legal minds?
How to Get Away with Murder is a show for the texting and tweeting generation. The pilot is filled with flashbacks to details the audience was shown just four or five minutes ago because you may have been looking at your multitude of devices and missed that moment. At the four-minute mark, we’re shown the bloody murder weapon that killed the unfortunate soul wrapped up in the rug. When the same desk knick knack/bludgeon is shown in Annalise’s office at the nine-minute mark, we flashback to the image of the object dripping blood in the woods. In all fairness, there had been a commercial break. So, how long are we supposed to retain all of these intricate details, anyway? (There’s another similar flashback during the trial in case we forgot an entire character we met in the first half of the show.)
Unfortunately, nothing improves when Annalise and her team of crack defense attorneys enter the courtroom. How to Get Away with Murder makes Matlock look like Court TV. The solution to the “trial of the week” is the key prosecution witness is colorblind. Question: “So the pill you saw in Mr. Dead Guy’s office was yellow? Like the prosecutor’s shirt this morning?” Answer: “Yes.” Response: “But his shirt is blue!” Yeesh. At that point, I expected her co-counsel, Mr. Vincent Gambini to ask the next witness, “What is a grit?”
Even the soap operatic personal lives of the characters, a trademark of show creator Shonda Rhimes, are embarrassingly contrived. After a student catches the very-married Annalise with her boyfriend, she provides a tearful confession to justify her philandering. Her marriage has been strained by their recent unsuccessful attempts … to have a baby? No offense to the attractive and talented Viola Davis, but I think there may be a simple explanation about her lack of a pregnancy. She’s nearly 50-years-old. This is just one of many examples where the first idea to pop into the writer’s head makes it to the small screen even if a much more believable alternative could have been devised in five minutes or less.
I’ve never liked the term “guilty pleasure”. It’s an apology for liking something that other people have determined you shouldn’t enjoy. We know that dessert at the Cheesecake Factory is 1800 calories and 210 grams of fat, but we have some every now and then anyway. We all need the occasional “mindless” television distraction. But, you should know that if How to Get Away with Murder is your small screen cheesecake, the eggs were bad and the milk was sour when Penny made it.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.