How To Get Away With Murder: We’re Not Friends

Posted on October 24, 2014

How-To-Get-Away-With-Murder-Season-1-Episode-5-TV-Review-Tom-Lorenzo-Site-TLOTom Verica in ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder”

 

It is entirely possible that we were impatient and cranky after watching last night’s lackluster Project Runway finale, but this was the first episode that felt like the wheels were starting to come off the bus. This is a show that requires a ton of suspension of disbelief, even to get through its best episodes, but when the writing isn’t up to snuff or the performances don’t quite land, you can see what a shaky house of cards it all is.

First off, the episodes are starting to get formulaic a bit too soon. And by that we don’t just mean that they follow a certain narrative pattern. It’s fine that they’re using flashforwards and flashbacks to tell the story, and it’s fine that they’re focusing mainly on one character each episode, like they did this time out with Laurel. But the returns on this formula are rapidly diminishing. We still don’t feel like we’re watching people we have any real understanding of. They’re all character types spitting out rapid-fire dialogue that tends to reinforce their type without letting us know anything else about them. Annalise is STRONG and FIERCE. Sam is a SHIT. Michaela is a BITCH. Laurel is NAIVE and MORAL. Connor is GAY, GAY, SO VERY GAY. Frank is a DOG. Asher is DUMB. It’s time for some nuance to be injected into these people, because they’re all starting to sound like cartoon characters. And because it’s a show designed to constantly unveil twists or shocks, information about character histories and motivations are being held back deliberately. It’s built into the show that the characters all be vaguely defined.

We don’t mind that kind of setup so much when we get moments like the bedroom scene with Annalise and Sam, where we find out – quite naturally, during the course of the argument – that not only is she his second wife; not only did they have an affair when he was married, but that she was also some sort of “mess” that he helped clean up and set right. That’s an instance of withholding that actually works. It casts all of Annalise’s actions, from her intense paranoia about her husband, to her own extramarital affair, in a different light. But that moment only worked because Annalise is the character who’s had the most character work established and Sam is the one character the entire murder storyline hinges on. Oh, and because Viola is still mopping the floor with her co-stars each week, on the pathway to that Emmy.

It’s the side characters that are suffering the most from lack of established traits and histories. And since they are, collectively, as much a part of the show as the Keating marriage, at least half the show isn’t working. This week was Laurel’s story and  … what did we really learn about her? That we didn’t already know, we mean? She’s just … Laurel. She … cares. “I want to feel like we’re doing something good for once,” she pleads quietly, in a monotone, her facial muscles barely moving. “Why is that so hard for everyone to understand?” And to prove that she cares, she tampers with the jury – on a case that, right up until the credits rolled, had us waiting for a last-second reveal that the kid and mom were lying, because it sure played that way throughout the episode. But we’ll get to that in a second.

Let’s see, who else? Connor has one contribution to the team: He fucks men. That’s IT. Every storyline around this character (and he’s gotten more attention than most of the interns) has come down to his gay, man-fucking superpowers that somehow benefit the case of the week. “Humpr?” BITCH, PLEASE. We’re quite happy to see a sexually active gay man on TV because of the long history of the medium treating us like eunuchs, but this is a pretty crass and cynical way to portray him. It’s not the sluttiness that bothers us. We actually find that part interesting. It’s the way he has no other contributions to make. But they all suffer from this. Why does Wes let Rebecca abuse him so much? Sure, maybe he’s attracted to her, and has a White Knight complex, but she’s really nasty to him in every single encounter and he never acts like any human being we know would act. He barely blinks. And poor Asher. We’re supposed to believe he’s good enough to be on this team, but for some reason, they keep writing him as a moron. Michaela is starting to come off like a side character on The Facts of Life; one of those bitchy, preppy Eastman girls that runs afoul of Jo and Blair. We would love to see them drop the case-of-the-week format for one episode and lay some true groundwork on just who the hell these people are.

The case of the week isn’t quite working for us either. Like we said, this one actually played like there was a twist coming, except there wasn’t one. Although that’s not the issue so much. It’s just an example of some uneven acting and directing, we think. No, the problem with the CoTW is that it’s both too far from the main story and too ludicrous to believe. We can’t imagine being a lawyer and watching this show. It must be infuriating. The behavior of Annalise and her team alone would be enough to make any lawyer have a conniption fit, but the unlikely twists, and the way the show turns the most mundane processes, like voir dire, into this rapid-fire, high-stakes shootout is borderline silly to anyone who’s sat through jury selection, quite possibly the dullest activity that doesn’t take place in a DMV. But like so many other wild aspects of the show, we have a much easier time buying it if it’s integrated into the overall story well. If you’re going to chuck realism out the window, than you need to start shooting for thematic consistency. We’d like to see the CoTW be more of a reflection of the main characters’ states of mind or actions. Sure, there’s a vague “shitty spouse” connection this week, but that’s not enough, we think.

We enjoy this show when it’s at its best; giving Viola the right material to work her magic and pacing the reveals at regular enough intervals to keep us hooked. But when you have a weak episode like this one, you can really see the where the seams are straining. As much as we love Miss Viola giving a drag diva mascara-streaked meltdown each week, even we thought that vodka-bottle montage/music video was straining the limits of camp. But had that scene been plopped in the middle of an engrossing CoTW and a revealing side character storyline, we probably would have cheered her on.

 

 

[Photo Credit: ABC/Nicole Wilder]

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