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Early Reviews Say 'How To Get Away With Murder' is Very Much in the Style of 'Scandal.' Good Thing or Not?

by Tambay A. Obenson
July 9, 2014 1:06 PM
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How To Get Away With Murder

Here's early reaction to the Viola Davis/Shonda Rhimes-created drama for ABC titled "How To Get Away With Murder," courtesy of TV Line who've seen some of the upcoming new series.

I should first note what one of my main anxieties about the upcoming series has been since it was first announced - that, while, on the surface, this is the kind of work that I've long wanted to see Viola Davis in, and I certainly hope it delivers, I also have said that I hope it's absolutely nothing like "Scandal," which is child's play to me. And, to be clear, I'm speaking specifically about the style of the show (I suppose we can call it Shonda-Style), and not the stories it tells.

Well, apparently, according to the below review, it's quite similar in some regards, as the first sentence states: "The latest ride to open at Shondaland, Murder (or HTGAWM?) is very much in the style of Scandal..."

Great! Exactly not what I was hoping for. The writer later refers to it as "the new 'Scandal'"... potentially; although he doesn't explain further. One can only hope that, the fact that both shows star a black woman, and were created by the same woman, aren't his only reasons for wondering whether it'll be "the new 'Scandal'" 

Despite any comparisons to "Scandal," I'm still hoping for something much more adult, darker, challenging, slower-paced, even grittier and suitable for an actress with the strong presence of Viola Davis; Something that's more on par with other female-led acclaimed dramas like "Damages" for example. I'd love to see Viola Davis as a powerful, fearless, egotistical, cunning, manipulative, dangerous, and even at times evil character like the all-too complex Patty Hewes (the notorious lawyer in "Damages" as played by Glenn Close; Davis also plays an attorney in "How To Get Away With Murder" whose description is actually somewhat similar to Glenn Close's in "Damages"). I don't want to see another Olivia Pope-style character and series, and I hope Davis is given enough to really chew on here, and make the character (and show) her own.

When you've got someone with her chops and commanding presence, you have to utilize those traits fully, otherwise, what's the point.

The TV Line review adds, maybe helpfully: "Be forewarned, this pilot demands your attention — the story abruptly toggles between timelines and it will take some time to get the assorted telegenic kiddies straight, so if you’re the type to zone out after the 140th character of a tweet (or article), this is not for you. Murder invites you to wonder, throughout its first hour, what (and who) it is about; those who play the game will get reeled in, real quick, and in turn possibly discover a new TV obsession."

The writer also adds: "Davis is expectedly commanding in her scenes, be they in a classroom, courtroom or (a makeshift) bedroom."

But of course she is; as I posited above, as one of her screen traits.

Aja Naomi King also gets some love in the review, which is good news. 

Overall, the writer seems to have appreciated what he saw, but does express some concern with how quickly the series may catch-on with audiences, stating: "The question is, will it grab an audience straight away (as “the new Scandal” and all) or will it, too, need time to cultivate a fanatical following?"

The project, produced via Rhimes' Shondaland production company, with her partner Betsy Beers, is described as a sexy, suspense legal thriller that follows a brilliant criminal defense attorney (played by Davis) and her ambitious law school students who become entangled in a murder mystery that could have major ramifications on their entire university as well as change the course of their lives.

Davis plays the lead character named Annalise DeWitt, the brilliant law professor and accomplished criminal defense attorney, who is further described as an excellent manipulator of people, particularly the law students who work at her law firm. And even juicier, she's married to a psychology professor, while also having an affair, and calls her law class "How to Get Away With Murder."

Rounding out the cast are Aja Naomi King, Matt McGorry, Alfred Enoch, Karla Souza, Jack Falahee and Charlie Weber.

Peter Nowalk ("Grey's Anatomy") is scripting and executive producing the ABC drama, alongside Shondaland's Rhimes and Beers. 

Michael Offer directed the pilot, which was shot in Philadelphia.

This marks Viola Davis' first full-time TV series role. It will air on Thursday nights from 10-11pm. 

Thursday nights will be Shonda nights, because all 3 of her ABC series will air in primetime on that day: "Grey's Anatomy" (8-9 pm); "Scandal" (9-10 pm) and "How to Get Away With Murder" (10-11pm).

Watch the trailer below:

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More: Viola Davis, Shonda Rhimes, TV News

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  • Terri | July 10, 2014 4:39 PMReply

    Yep: "I'd love to see Viola Davis as a powerful, fearless, egotistical, cunning, manipulative, dangerous, and even at times evil character like the all-too complex Patty Hewes (the notorious lawyer in "Damages" as played by Glenn Close; Davis also plays an attorney in "How To Get Away With Murder" whose description is actually somewhat similar to Glenn Close's in "Damages")."

  • Marie | July 10, 2014 10:07 AMReply

    I stopped Grey's Anatomy binge-watching after a few seasons and could only take Scandal for a few episodes since it didn't feel worth my time (despite my love for Kerry Washington.) But I'll watch ANYTHING with Viola Davis, period. This writing sounds slightly better than both Scandal & Grey's Anatomy (in which every episode a doctor says, "We get to save lives!") and Davis has the skills to elevate the material. Something Rhimes does well is give black characters real-world flaws so they don't feel so cardboard and noble.

  • Gabby | July 9, 2014 7:50 PMReply

    @Tambay, you are incorrect.

    This is not Viola Davis' first full-time series role. She was a regular on CBS' "City of Angels" and ABC's "Traveler".

  • Darkan | July 9, 2014 7:05 PMReply

    I don't understand. People are never satisfied with Viola's career choices. On one hand they get upset if she's frumpy and wearing a wig then I look at this trailer and they have her being sexy, dangerous and smart which we hardly ever see her as especially her having a sex scene in the trailer and people say I hope this is nothing like Scandal. Black people confuse me at times. In any event go do your thang Viola, I'll tune in to see what it's about!

  • troublemaker | July 10, 2014 12:48 AM

    I saw the trailer already. I believe she's married to a pale face that's why I made my comment.

  • Darkan | July 9, 2014 9:05 PM

    @Troublemaker, the trailer clearly shows her getting serviced by a buff Mandingo on a desk in a dark office. One of her students walks in on her so there should be no problem there. LOL.

  • troublemaker | July 9, 2014 8:38 PM

    I have no problem with Viola being sexy and seductive but she can do that with a hot black husband not as a mistress hopping from white man to white man like Kerry Washington's Liv Pope

  • slb | July 9, 2014 4:48 PMReply

    If it's like "Scandal", that ensures I won't watch it.

  • CareyCarey | July 9, 2014 3:39 PMReply

    "Great! Exactly not what I was hoping for" ~ Tambay

    I second that emotion Mr. Obenson.

    Its no secret that I am not a fan of Scandal nor its writing team. But today, I thought I'd use this space to run my mouth on another dookie plate of hot mess which I had high hopes for. That be, Russ Parr's The Undershepherd.

    OMG! That movie, which is presently playing on Netflex, is a hot pile of doo-doo. I am sorry, but there's no better way for me to describe that mess of a film. I mean, the writing was horribly amateurish and the acting was no better. Granted, Isaiah Washington had his moments but even he failed at conveying the spirit and nuances of a black Baptist preacher. And, the rest of the crew? Again I say, OMG. It was as if they read the script 4 hours before filming. However, in fairness to Russ Parr... well... maybe I should say, Ol' Russ was working with some of the corniest black actors on the scene, starting with Mr. One Note, Keith David. Has he ever, really, killed a part? I don't think so. And then there was Mr. Every-bodies Black Man, Clifton Powell. Come on Clifton, now I know why Spike Lee never called your number.

    Back to the storyline and the horrible writing, that garbage made Tyler Perry look like Shakespeare. If you ask me, it was a meandering, sappy, disjointed and way over the top mess, that's less than fit for day time soap opera affair.

    Now I'm gonna take it easy on the women in this scandalous affair because, well, as I've implied, they didn't have much to work with and trite but true, an actor gotta eat (and build their resume). However, that said, they should try finding a way to expunge this fiasco from their work records because this film wasn't a good look for any of them. Oh well, we still have Scandal and this new Rhondaville to champion and crow about, right?

    Hey, anyway, now I'm wondering, how did Shadow and Act rate The Undersheperd? I can't seem to find a post/review?

    And, now I'm wondering if that other faith-based film that I am looking forward to see, Ya'Ke Smith's WOLF, will have any resemblance to The Undersheperd?

  • troublemaker | July 9, 2014 2:25 PMReply

    I really hope this show is nothing like Scandal because I don't want Viola's character to be in an interracial relationship or be a glorified bed warmer like Liv Pope! Can we get some black non cheating relationships on primetime?

  • h | July 10, 2014 11:08 PM

    Then it wouldn't be a Shonda Rhimes creation.

  • bb | July 9, 2014 1:31 PMReply

    I've seen the pilot. It's good, and Davis' character is definitely more on the dark side. The writing is definitely similar to Grey's and Scandal, with its fast pace, but to me it seems like it's better written the Shonda's previous shoes. It'll be interesting to see how it's received when it debuts in the Fall.

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