‘How to Get Away with Murder’ Pilot Recap: “It’s Nothing More Than Common Sense”

ABC might as well rebrand itself as SRC – the Shondra Rhimes Channel – this season, at least on Thursday nights. In addition to returning hits ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ (medical soap) and ‘Scandal’ (political thriller), the powerhouse producer has also debuted the new legal drama ‘How to Get Away with Murder’, and the network is airing all three back-to-back-to-back on the same night. I don’t follow the other two (though my wife is a big fan of ‘Scandal’), but this one looked like it might be worth a chance.

Viola Davis stars as law professor Annalise Keating at the (fictional, I assume) Middleton Law School. Keating has a reputation as a ball-buster with impossible expectations for her students. She doesn’t have much patience for actually, you know, teaching the law. If you can’t be the absolute best lawyer the world has ever seen on Day 1, she doesn’t want anything to do with you. (If she’s so amazing, that begs the question of why she’s teaching at some no-name law school and not the Ivy League, but perhaps that will be addressed later.)

Rather than prepare a syllabus or assign textbook homework, Keating has her students observe and participate in a real case that she has taken – involving a woman accused of poisoning her husband by switching out his heart medication with aspirin, which he was allergic to. Keating challenges the students to prepare a defense at least as good as the one she plans to use. 90% of the class will fail. Five students will stand out as her star pupils, including wide-eyed innocent Wes Gibbons, who initially came unprepared but has a halfway decent idea for the defense. Accidentally witnessing the professor cheating on her husband probably helped his chances for advancement a bit too.

Interspersed with this storyline are flash-forwards to three months later, where we find four of those five students attempting to cover-up a murder they’ve committed themselves. The details of this are rolled out slowly. All we know at first is that there’s a dead body at Prof. Keating’s house that they need to roll up in a rug and burn in the woods. Did they murder their teacher? If so, why?

As both storylines unfold, Keating gets her client off using pieces of strategy that her students helped with, but one pupil discovers that the woman is actually guilty and had conspired with the husband’s mistress to off him. Keating apparently already knew this, but didn’t care. The truth means nothing to her. All she cares about is winning or losing.

Later, the flash-forwards reveal that the body in the rug was Keating’s husband. A suggestion is made that he may have had something to do with the murder of another college student, and presumably his own death is tied to that.

Viola Davis has fun playing a hard-ass, though her character doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If she’s such a successful practicing attorney and doesn’t care about her students at all, why does she bother teaching this class? I really have no interest at all in any of the students, especially the annoyingly naïve Wes, who seems like he would have flunked out of community college. While the murder mystery is kind of intriguing, it isn’t really original or innovative enough to hook me so far.

Although ‘How to Get Away with Murder’ may not be a bad show, I have so much other TV to watch already this season, I doubt this will make the cut.

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