‘How to Get Away with Murder’ intriguing, inconsistent

Criminal defense attorney Annalise Keating brings depth to "How to Get Away with Murder." Adapted from Joella Marano via Flickr Creative Commons

The new fall TV show “How to Get Away with Murder” (2014) is another addition to ABC’s Thursday night lineup. The new project of executive producer Shonda Rhimes — the creator of “Scandal” (2012 – present) and “Grey’s Anatomy” (2005 – present) — “How to Get Away with Murder” follows law professor and defense lawyer Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) and her trials with a group of law students that assist with cases at her law firm. The new series mostly follows a case-per-week format, interwoven with a plot line about a dead female student, and an intriguing flash-forward narrative.

At first glance, the intertwining plot lines seem to function well together, but the show seems like it’s trying to overachieve. Usually a TV show can be either plot-heavy or character-driven — and, unfortunately, “How to Get Away with Murder” tries to accomplish both, with the excess making it hard for the show to resound emotionally with the audience. Since it’s still early in the season, however, “How to Get Away with Murder” has time to improve the balance between its plot and characters.

The protagonist of the series is undoubtedly Annalise Keating, the strict, emotionally nuanced lawyer who is juggling her cases, her students and her marital problems. Keating is already a breath of fresh air for female characters: She is a layered woman who is brilliant but flawed, and the subtleties in her character will be interesting to explore. Best of all, she is played by the extremely talented Viola Davis, whose excellent performance creates an appealing character.

Fleshing out the series, the law students Keating mentors are a diverse group of people who have insecurities and doubts about their positions. Some of these minor roles feel superfluous, and “Murder” might be a bit lighter without them. Once again, time will tell; viewers must watch the show’s development in the upcoming weeks to see if these characters are essential or not.

“How to Get Away with Murder” also employs a unique flash-forward narrative approach, periodically stopping in the middle of episodes to cut to scenes of the law students trying to cover up a murder they ostensibly committed. Each narrative break seems to reveal a little more about the murder, but the motive still remains mysterious.  Unfortunately, although the flash-forwards add intrigue and excitement, the viewers are not yet emotionally attached to the characters, and so it doesn’t seem to matter if they are caught or not — the latter option, however, could make for an excellent plot twist, with the law students on trial for murder. As a result, “Murder” struggles to build tension around these circumstances, and these elements don’t generate the amount of suspense “Murder” needs to achieve.

The ultimate question of “How to Get Away with Murder” is the survival of the show: With the high Nielson ratings (most likely because of the hefty “Scandal” lead-in), the show will most likely get renewed for a second season. Hopefully this will allow the writers to flesh out the plot and nuance the other main characters besides Annalise Keating. “How to Get Away with Murder” has the potential for a truly great series; the actors and the writers just need to seize the chance to tell a suspenseful and fascinating story about a successful female lawyer, her students and her colleagues. The concept for the show is extremely absorbing, and a little bit of fine-tuning in the upcoming episodes and seasons will definitely benefit the series as a whole.


Summary

"How to Get Away with Murder" has the potential to become a truly great series.

3.5 stars
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