Discredit the witness. Find a new suspect. Bury the evidence. These are the rules that criminal-law professor Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) tells her students to follow if they want to win a case. Of course, they’re the same rules that Pete Nowalk (Grey’s Anatomy) used to create the most addictive new thriller on TV. Executive-produced by Shonda Rhimes, How to Get Away With Murder begins with an actual murder—a group of hypercompetitive law students are fighting over what to do with the body—before it flashes back to their first day in Keating’s class, quickly establishing each character before discrediting our first impressions. Wes (Alfred Enoch) is a transfer student, unprepared for this cutthroat program. Michaela (Aja Naomi King) and Asher (Matt McGorry) are the class know-it-alls. Pretty boy Connor (Jack Falahee) is a master manipulator who trades sex for evidence. Laurel (Karla Souza) is the smart, quiet one. Or is she? As Keating asks during one lecture on witnesses, ”Do you know who anyone really is?”
Thanks to Davis’ powerfully layered performance, it’s impossible to read Keating. When Wes finds her cheating on her husband, she lays a hand on Wes’ chest, tearfully confessing that she’s having trouble conceiving. Later, she gives him special treatment in class. Is she flirting? Blackmailing him? Just acting motherly, because she sees potential in him that we don’t? Or are those all loaded questions? When someone quips that Wes could be Keating’s son, Michaela scoffs, ”Because all black people are related?” Murder wants us to reevaluate our assumptions about people, and because it’s a show about a brilliant, complicated woman of color, that’s especially important. Consider that The New York Times‘ review of Murder began with the ridiculous suggestion that Rhimes’ autobiography should be called How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman. Clearly everyone needs a chance to reevaluate their first impressions.
But hey, we’re getting way too serious here. The show’s writers might be able to use mens rea correctly in a sentence, but Murder is supposed to be fun. It builds suspense with long, silent stares that intimate everyone’s guilty of something: murder (did Keating’s husband kill a sorority girl?), adultery (did her associate sleep with her husband?), or just inadvisable piercings (hello, Wes’ goth neighbor!). The bitchy dialogue is endlessly quotable: ”I look nice, I know,” says associate Bonnie (Liza Weil). ”But that’s just my face.” And the masterfully dangled clues hint at new suspects every week. Maybe Nowalk (and Rhimes) knows something the professor doesn’t: Yes, bury the evidence. But don’t bury it too deep. A