The ABC pilot for the new Viola Davis show Getting Away With Murder had the award-winning, and Oscar nominated, actress ruling the classroom and the small screen. While the show may be about teaching law students the more practical side of defending the guilty, it can also be seen as the performer tutoring other actors about the craft. In other words, Acting 101. There is a reason that Ms. Davis is award-winning and watching this crime mystery series will reveal not just clues on how to “get away with murder” but on how to act better with just body language than many professionals can by using their entire selection of acting tools.
Singing the 49 year-old actress’ praises is quite easy, just her performances in the 2011 film The Help and her cameo in the 2014 biopic Get on Up show the depth that this exquisite actress can reach. One does not need to look at any of Davis’ other roles in her 69 credits to find proof of her skill.
As Professor Annalise Keating teaching the brightest law students who have clawed their way into her class at Middleton Law School, Viola reveals the first time she appears on screen that her character is complex and devoted to winning. Guilt and innocence do not enter into her thinking, it is all about the win although even that is too simplistic a breakdown of her character’s thinking.
The lawyer introduces herself “on the fly” marching up to the chalkboard and revealing that while the class’ official title may be Criminal Law 101, Keating has renamed it Getting Away With Murder. Viola Davis rules the classroom immediately in that scene and comes across as the type of Professor that students dread. On the small screen, the character leaps into authoritative action with an affirmative style that turns out to mirror the same way that she works in a court room.
The class revolves around a real case that she is working on instead of a prior one that has already been solved. Titled “The Aspirin Assassin” by Keating, she requires her students to be familiar with this real case and expects them to come up with plans of attack that will get the suspect off.
The television show has a lot going on. While meeting Davis and her students, five of which will become her paid assistants, there is at least one subplot. A missing female student, Lila Stangard, is being searched for, only to be found in a manner reminiscent of the horror film Dark Water – the original and the remake – and it seems that Keating is in an affair.
The largest “subplot” has nothing, it seems, to do with the missing student or the present case of the Aspirin Assassin. The show starts with four of the five assistants going through the panicky motions of covering up a murder that they are involved in. The arguing foursome are in the process of saving themselves from going to jail and as they flip a coin to determine which direction they need to take, the show begins with one of these characters, Wes Gibbons arriving to the first class of Annalise Keating.
In Getting Away With Murder the initial ruling of the series is excellent. The mix of classroom and practical exercises that the students go through are well presented and this many faceted and interwoven crime drama on screen is clever and intelligently written. There are enough threads to follow that the viewer may get dizzy trying to connect them all. A lot of questions are brought up in the pilot and only one is really answered by the end of the first show. Questions like, what is going on with Wes’ next door neighbor and why are there claw marks in the wall over his headboard and teeth marks in the wood of his bed. These are just a few of the additional mysteries in the first episode that are not answered before the final credits roll. Getting Away With Murder airs Thursdays on ABC prepare to put your thinking cap on.
By Michael Smith