The pilot episode of How to Get Away With Murder on ABC starring Viola Davis was a splendid showcase for this hard working and prestigious actress, her portrayal of a law professor whose students start to specialize in Criminal Activity 101 looks like another award winning role for the performer. The series looks like one of the more intelligent shows available this fall on television with nary a computer generated special effect in sight. This means that the CG used thus far has been very good, or is of such a high standard it was not noticed if it was even used at all, but it could have been used, think bonfire.
The multi award winning and nominated Davis managed to convey a lot about her character in the first episode. Her practicing defence attorney/law professor is addicted to the win and will do whatever it takes to ensure she walks away with the prize. Annalise Keating, as played by Davis, fears nothing but failure in the courtroom. Keating is having an affair and will use whoever is in her stable of assets, including her lovers to gain that victory. Davis’s performance as Annalise shows just how adept she is using body language alone to power a scene and watching her work on the new series should be required viewing for all students of acting.
The show opens with some pretty over the top festivities going on at the campus, apparently in aid of the big homecoming game and party. Four of Keating’s students are in the panicky process of hiding a crime and a body. During this adrenalized cover up, which is centered around covering up a murder in the professor’s house, a few flashbacks show how these students met and became part of a team.
As the four go through their frenzied activity of self preservation, How to Get Away With Murder then shows Viola Davis makeing her entrance as Professor Keating, striding into the classroom to teach Criminal Law 101. The lawyer then shows in short order why she is the type of instructor who strikes fear into her student’s hearts with her behaviour, but captures their minds with challenge. Her first interaction is with a student on the waitlist Wes Gibbons.
Keating uses real life cases to teach her students the pragmatic practices of law versus theory. Her first case, “The Aspirin Assassin” is one she is working on and she wants her class to compete and find out how to win it. At no time is innocence presumed. The motive is to win the case regardless of the true facts.
The main story of “the assassin” is played out against a student who has gone missing. A young female who Keating’s husband taught in his class. While the local news covers the young girl’s disappearance, Gibbon’s hears about the law student who lived in his room before, “lab rabbit sex” and meltdowns. Wes also discovers deep scratch marks in the wall over his bed and bitemarks in the headboard. The girl in the room next door has some sort of connection to the missing girl as well.
Throughout the course of the show, the girl in question is found dead in a rooftop water tank a la Dark Water, Wes learns that his professor is having an affair and that she will not hesitate to sacrifice a “loved one” for the win. The Aspirin Assassin walks free and it turns out the body that four of the professor’s students are hiding is that of Keating’s husband. In How to get Away With Murder, the combination of Viola Davis and criminal activity 101 is a winning one. The show is on ABC Thursdays and looks to be one of the more interesting shows on offer this fall.
By Michael Smith