Law Reviews: How to Get Away With Murder

October 16, 2014

In Shonda Rhimes’ universe, law students skip class, defend the accused in high-profile trials, and seduce unwitting investigators—all in the name of learning criminal law under a brilliant — if mysterious — professor. This is the premise of Rhimes’ new endeavor, How to Get Away with Murder, which follows a group of One Ls as they navigate their way through law school under the tutelage of criminal law professor Annelise Keating (Viola Davis).

While purists might scoff at the set-up, the show’s absurdity is what makes it extremely fun.  Rhimes marries the world of competitive novices (think Grey’s Anatomy) with high-stakes legal procedural (think Scandal) to create an impulsively watchable drama for both lawyers and non-lawyers alike. The show opens on a group of scared twenty-somethings in the woods. They are — what else? — debating what to do with a dead body. “Do not tell me how to feel right now!” and “This is murder — none of us know what we’re talking about!” they yell at each other. They settle on a coin toss. But before we can find out if it’s heads or tails, the screen fades to three months earlier.

The kids in the woods, we learn, are a group of first-year students at the prestigious Middleton Law School. They’re all protégés of adjunct professor Annelise “clearly your karma’s out of balance to get assigned to my class” Keating. Keating’s full-time job is criminal defense lawyer. After a rigorous test, she selects a group of five students to work for her firm during the school year — the same group we saw debating over the dead body in the opening scene. The plot thickens.

The show’s a little over the top. But it beats watching a more accurate portrayal of law students reading in a library. By the second episode, the group is off helping Keating defend a new shady character each week. Even as they clear their clients’ names, however, those around them seem to become guiltier by the day. Keating, behind her cool exterior, may have some secrets of her own.  (One student walks in on Keating’s steamy encounter with a man other than her husband.)

Though only a few episodes of How to Get Away with Murder have aired, the show has set itself up with several delicious mysteries, namely, how did the kids end up with a dead body in the woods? Why is Professor Keating having an affair? What else is she hiding? Though the answers might not be profound, they’ll be entertaining. So sit back, suspend your disbelief, and enjoy the ride.