How To Get Away With Murder: Let’s Get to Scooping

Posted on October 17, 2014

How-To-Get-Away-With-Murder-Season-1-Episode-4-Television-Review-Tom-Lorenzo-Site-TLOViola Davis in ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder”

Oh, you silly, silly show, with your  analingus and your dick pics.

Look, are the gay sex scenes kinda clumsy and gratuitous? Yes. Are they also hot? Also yes.  Is the dialogue witty and erudite, revealing truths about the characters and the world they live in?

“If that were my husband, I wouldn’t be able to walk straight!”

“Isn’t your ass tired?” “Who said it’s my ass?”

“Why is your penis on a dead girl’s phone?”

Um… no.

Is this necessarily … quality television? We suppose it depends on how you measure it. If you’re going purely by an “entertainment value” yardstick, then this show is loaded with quality. If you’re looking for smart scripts or challenging plots with multi-dimensional characters and fascinating motivations, all performed by a cast of talented actors, well … you might want to look somewhere else.

But watching Miss Viola get her Dangerous Liaisons on in front of that mirror is reason enough to tune in, and her performance – of the simple act of removing makeup, we might add – recasts even the silly, over-the-top parts of this show as some sort of epic Grand Guignol melodrama. The dialogue and plot are both mostly high camp, but when Miss Viola’s in church, it becomes high drag; an operatic tour de force of acting, as well as a Lip Synch For Your Life, complete with wig-ripping. If she ended that scene with a death drop in front of RuPaul, we wouldn’t have been a bit surprised. This is Viola Davis taking a page out of the Jessica Lange Playbook of Career Management: “Well, the movies aren’t giving me the scripts I want and this TV show is mostly silly crap, but I’m just gonna go in there and blow every other motherfucker out of the water so I can pick up my Emmy and keep negotiating for more money.” It is impossible not to love what she’s got going on.

It’s time to have a talk about Annalise’s wardrobe, though. It’s just. Too. Tight. Look at that picture up top. Her dress is riding up all over the place. We understand that the look of this character is important and establishes several things about her, not least of which is that she’s formidable and her look is a form of armor. There’s a reason they’re making a point to show the difference between the public Annalise and the one that lies in bed next to her husband. And it’s not just a point about her being formidable or hiding behind a mask, but about Annalise living as a black woman specifically. Because that makeup scene isn’t nearly as powerful without that glossy wig being removed to show the natural hair being hidden underneath it. It’s not nearly as arresting without that rather startling metamorphosis that occurs right in front of your eyes as she wipes away the layers of color on her face until you get to the true shade. So we’re totally on board with the idea behind her look. Body-con silhouettes make perfect sense. But dresses that ride up or get all lumpy over her shapewear is really distracting – and worse, plays against the image they’re trying to sell.

The loops and twists and turns in the plot are so ludicrous that we can’t really get too invested in them. When the gays aren’t tossing each other’s salads, they’re plummeting out of windows or cracking up from the strain of chopping up body parts. Except for the cute, nerdy Gaysian whose name we can never remember. At least that one’s got his head screwed on, you’ll pardon the term, straight. Loved that scene of him getting all <whitney>”close the door behind you/leave your keys”</whitney> on Connor. The rest of them? We know we should care about characters who aren’t cute gay men and aren’t being portrayed by Viola Davis, but honestly, we have yet to be enthralled by what any of them are serving up. It’s not entirely the actors’ fault, because the scripts are still drawing all the characters too broadly, as if this was still the pilot episode. Michaela’s a high-strung mean girl. Lauren’s kind of a mopey cheater. Wes something something Rebecca. The guy from Orange is the New Black something something dumb jock. No one’s terrible, but the show is relying way too much on Viola to do all the work. We can understand the impulse, and we probably could watch 45 miutes of her putting on and taking off makeup every week, but Annalise is such an interesting character and Viola such a fantastic actor that they both deserve to be surrounded by people closer to her level so she has someone to play off. Elizabeth Perkins played a mostly ridiculous character this episode but she felt like an actual peer to Viola in their scenes together. We need to see Annalise up against characters and actors who can withstand Viola’s onslaught of talent.

 

[Photo Credit: ABC/Mitchell Haaseth]

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