A Wanker’s Literary Reaction: How to Get Away with Murder
So, I’ve been interested in How to Get Away with Murder ever since Viola Davis scooped an Emmy for her performance in it earlier this year. I’m not particularly into police/crime procedural shows, so I wasn’t exactly coming to the show from a place of wild enthusiasm or any beyond “huh, this is on Netflix and I need something to watch while I clean the house”. So, you know, it didn’t have a high level of expectation to live up to. Especially with that knowing, on-the-nose title; how would they, um, get away with that? And then I watched it, and it’s pretty much the best thing I’ve seen all year.
Seriously, trying to write a coherent review of HTGAWM has been nigh-on impossible because I just want to word-vomit every single thing I adore about this show. There’s the fiendishly compelling season-long arcs, the brilliant characterisation, the insane performances, the big issues it tackles, the smart way it takes them on. So, bear with me here while I try and put into words exactly why you should be Clockwork-Oranging yourself down in front of this show right now.
So, How to Get Away with Murder revolves around criminal defence attorney and law professor Annalise Keating (Davis), who chooses five students from her course every year to work on her cases. These five students- Wes, an ambitious nice guy with a secretive past, Connor, a callous, sharp-tongued narcissistic, Asher, a privileged upper-class douchebro, Laurel, an insecure idealist, and Michaela, who aspires to be like Annalise- end up embroiled in a murder case whose impact on their lives in further-reaching than any of them could have imagined. Yeah, I know it sounds like you’ve seen it all before, but trust me, you haven’t.
First off, I’d say that the main strength of this show lies in it’s characterisation. All the characters in this show have fully-formed arcs of their own, developing them beyond the tropey nature of their origin, and considering that the main cast numbers eight in total (all of the above, plus two employees at Annalise’s law office, plus a recurring character in the form of Annalise’s boyfriend whose body is very possibly literally hewn from oak), that’s pretty impressive. Half of what makes the show so damn compelling is the way they break these characters down into something fresh and different, exploiting their pasts and the occasionally ruthless nature of their work in order to create fully-formed people to populate the show.
And of course, I can’t ignore the performances. There’s not one dud in this show, and everyone steps up to the plate when they’re given something chunky to get their teeth into. This, in part, has to be down to the fact that you have to bring your a-game when you’re acting opposite Viola Davis, who, within forty seconds of walking on-screen in the first episode, turns into the most compelling woman on TV at the moment (save for maybe Jessica Jones, but that’s another review for another time). The question isn’t how she got the Emmy after only one season, but rather how anyone else can expect to win it as long as she’s inhabiting this character. The show throws a lot of potentially tricky or controversial subjects at Davis-such as race, gender, class and abuse- and she knocks them all out of the park without seeming like she’s even trying. She’s a flawed, sometimes outrightly cruel, character, and I would watch a thousand seasons of her swaggering about a court shouting at people before I got bored of it (and even then, I’d still be admiring her wardrobe).
While the show doesn’t necessarily push the boat out in terms of plotting-a season-long arc, with flashforwards to a murder committed at the half-way point of the season, dotted with case-of-the-week dramas- I can’t fault the writing, either. It’s sharp, witty, and on the ball, taking on a bunch of hotly-debated topics (like rape culture, terrorism, and sexual abuse) and asking sometimes uncomfortable questions about how they fit into the world of the show. The whole thing has a kind of trashy feel to it, while making sure that the plot is never anything less than compelling, smart and decadently entertaining.
Basically, what I’m saying is watch it. Even if, like me, this show doesn’t look like it’s your thing, give it a go, because it’s fucking excellent. Smart, boundary-pushing television doesn’t exactly come around all that often, and if you love TV as much as I do, it’s almost intoxicatingly exciting when it does. I’ll hear no excuses: the first season is on Netflix, and we’re currently half-way through the (nigh-on perfect) second, so you’ve got plenty of time to catch up before it comes back in February. Which is, ironically, a murderous amount of time to make us wait.