For three years now, ABC's Thursday night line-up has been dominated by one woman: "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal" creator Shonda Rhimes. Rhimes has become famous for creating groundbreaking television shows featuring complex, dynamic, and uncharacteristically (for network television, anyway) sexually liberated female characters. The latest creation from ShondaLand, "How to Get Away With Murder," is no different.
"Murder" -- which was created by ShondaLand writer Peter Nowalk and is executive produced by Rhimes -- will take up the third, 10 p.m. hour of the "Shonda Thursdays" line-up, and after screening the show's pilot, we're happy to announce that it definitely lives up to the mountains of hype. Yep, "Murder" should definitely be the talk of the water-cooler town on Friday morning, largely due to these six factors:
1. Its intriguing, morally ambiguous anti-heroine.
One thing "Murder" does right is let us know straight off the bat that Viola Davis' Professor Annalise Keating is no "Saint Alicia" Florrick of "The Good Wife." (Not that I'm talking smack on Alicia because I would never, ever do that.) Cable shows in particular have been introducing us to fascinating (mostly male) anti-heroes for years, and Rhimes' latest creation stars a woman who literally has no qualms with admitting to the fact that she lets guilty people off the hook for a living.
This isn't necessarily the number one way to endear yourself to an audience, and the fact that Keating engages in some unsavory extracurricular activities (more on those in a second) doesn't help, but a strong performance from Oscar-nominee Davis makes Keating a fascinating pair of shoulders to rest the show on. (She's also relentlessly great at her job, which has become a major television trope when it comes to fleshing out tough-to-love characters. See Showtime's "Nurse Jackie" for more proof.)
Davis is a wonderful actress, so much so that soapy plots about frat murders and mistress poisonings actually carry some emotional weight in her hands.
2. Its soapy, fast-paced case of the week.
One problem that "Scandal" faced in its third season was its overly complicated, occasionally nonsensical B613 story arc, but "How to Get Away With Murder" should avoid this problem if it expertly balances its serial AND procedural elements (In this manner, "HTGAWM" does want to be more like "The Good Wife") like it does in the pilot.
The first episode of the series is a great indicator that it might strike that rarely perfect balance, as the fast-moving (and totally bananas) case of the week ties in nicely with an ongoing story arc, giving ample weight to both without drowning too much in either.
3. Its diverse, (mostly) likable group of supporting characters.
Davis carries the series, but her supporting players show promise in the pilot as well. TV lovers will probably notice Matt McGorry from "Orange is the New Black," and Aja Naomi King has some solid moments as a bright-slash-unapologetically-competitive law student in Keating's class, but it's Alfred Enoch's wide-eyed, boy-next-door charm that truly steals the show when it comes to the supporting cast.
Enoch plays Wes Gibbins -- who is like Season 1 Quinn Perkins from "Scandal" in that he's the audience surrogate into this wacky Philadelphia law school universe -- but he also played Dean Thomas in the "Harry Potter" movies and grew up quite nicely, Neville Longbottom-style. Ten points for Gryffindor.
4. Its overarching mystery.
The case of the week was promising enough, but by the end of the premiere, you're also really going to want to know the reasoning behind the two heinous, seemingly connected campus crimes that take place. It wouldn't be ShondaLand without a little murder, after all.
5. Its affair.
Everyone knows you can't take a trip to ShondaLand without a pitstop in extramarital affair town, and "How to Get Away With Murder" has a doozy. If you like steamy, network-friendly-ish sex scenes, you'll enjoy this one.
6. Its catchphrase.
Davis utilizes the show's title at least twice during the premiere -- once before the five-minute mark -- so something tells me ShondaLand is hoping to replicate the "Scandal"-ous success of "it's handled" with the camp element, here. Luckily, Keating DOES teach a class called "How To Get Away With Murder," so it's not too out of place, or anything.