September 25, 2014

PREMIERING TONIGHT: SHOWBUZZDAILY Pilot Review – “How To Get Away With Murder”


HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER:  Thursday 10PM on ABC – Potential DVR Alert

PLAYERS:  Executive Producer Shonda Rhimes–and you can repeat that name several more times without overstating her importance.  The actual series creator, Peter Nowalk (a Scandal/Grey’s Anatomy alumnus).  A cast headed by the estimable Viola Davis, and with an assortment of lesser-knowns, including Alfred Enoch, Jack Falahee, Katie Findlay, Aja Naomi King, Matt McGorry, Karla Souza, Liza Weil, Charlie Weber and Billy Brown.  Pilot director Michael Offer.  ABC Studios.

PREMISE:  At a Philadelphia law school, Annalise Keating (Davis) is the queen, a challenging (not to say terrifying) professor, and also a very active, brilliant and ruthless criminal defense attorney.  Every fall, she accepts a few of her most promising first-year students to work with her at her firm, where they learn what the title of the show promises they will.  But this year, they may have learned too well:  flashforwards in the pilot show them embroiled all too personally with a corpse, whose identity isn’t revealed until the very end of the hour.

PILOT:  Even though Shonda Rhimes didn’t personally create Murder, it pitches its creative tent right on the border between Grey’s Anatomy (smart, competitive students study life and each other) and Scandal (intrigue-laden plotlines).  Murder‘s pilot has so many characters and so much story to lay out that much will need to be developed in later hours; this beginning gives us a sketchy idea of who, among the favored students, the naive guy is, and who the most unprincipled, but little more.  There are a lot of ways material like this can go wrong, by pushing too hard on the soap or overdoing the mystery’s plot twists–Scandal itself often just barely avoids these traps, and it’s not clear how personally involved Rhimes will be on this one, considering her two other series on the air.  The pilot’s trial-of-the-week component is settled rather uninterestingly, and if the show doesn’t watch out, its worst case scenario could turn it into Murder In the First.

All that being said, this is a highly entertaining pilot.  Davis, as one would expect, is magnetic, finally given the kind of large-scale leading role the big screen has never quite provided for her.  The students and the associates in her law firm are, like the supporting cast when Scandal began, much less vivid, but they’re still interesting points along a spectrum of amorality.  Nowalk’s script and Offer’s direction are thoroughly professional and absorbing.

PROSPECTS:  With 2 hours of Rhimes’s hits as lead-ins and no competition beyond Elementary and the last gasp of Parenthood, this series is a virtual tutorial in How To Air A Hit New Series.  Barring a complete collapse in quality (and maybe not even then), Murder‘s class is in good shape to remain in school long past the time it takes to earn an actual law degree.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."