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Friday, 21 November 2014

How To Get Away With Murder (First Half)

How To Get Away With Murder
(First Half).

I actually only started watching this show maybe three or four weeks back. Possibly less. More for reasons of finding time than aught else: The series had caught my interest from the moment I first saw descriptions of it, but every week it would come up and every week I wouldn't watch it. I don't remember what made me change my mind, although the answer was probably 'I was bored and it was there', since let's face it, much of my TV consumption can be chalked up to 'I have an expansive capacity for boredom.'

(Pretty much all of my film consumption, meanwhile, is for this blog. Awkward things, films. Too short to fill a period of boredom, but too long to just quickly watch before doing something else.)

Hi, Wes.

How To Get Away With Murder is a legal/crime drama about five law students who are hired as interns for their enigmatic and brutal defence professor, Annalise Keating, under whom they learn the fine art of making sure that (usually guilty) people don't go to prison. There is trouble brewing, though: In flashforwards, it is revealed that the five students are to be engaged in a cover-up of a murder, and in the present, the investigation of the murder of sorority student Lila Stangard starts hitting unpleasantly close to home for both Annalise and student Wes.

Let's get one thing out of the way: I hate flash-forwards. Hate 'em. Hate flashbacks, too. Hate anything that involves flashing and movements through time. As you might imagine, this has presented issues in the past, such as while watching Arrow, The Flash, Lost or Once Upon A Time, but unlike those four shows, I'm not going to waste ten minutes of your reading time with a by-the-numbers side story about one time four years ago when I was watching OUAT and wasn't impressed, intercut with me sitting and looking pensive.

In this instance, though, it actually works out okay. The flash-forwards are pretty sparing, and although they're never the most interesting parts of the episode, they set things up well for the final episode of this half, by establishing facts and evidence about the murder that's yet to happen and allowing the audience to play detective, figuring out who would ultimately be the one to bash somebody's head in with a trophy.

(The culprit, it turns out, was painfully obvious just for narrative reasons, making the protestations from the cast that none of them predicted who it was feel just a shade hollow.)

Hi, Annalise and title.

The meta-plot for the whole series, then, both regarding 'who killed Lila Stangard' and 'who will commit the future murder', is set up well, and the two are interwoven into each other and the plot in a way that feels very natural but sometimes causes a rather inconsistent balance of meta-plot to episodic plot. 

The episodic plots are also very good. Typically they're more character focused than anything, with the courtroom shenanigans serving as a backdrop to some kind of character struggle (Asher and his feelings about his father), arc (Conner and his learning to be a decent romantic partner) or identifying process (Wes being the diabolical spawn of Machiavelli and Satan), sometimes leading them closer to the murder at the end of this half. 

Hi, kissing.

It is, ultimately, a very character driven show. Some shows are about characters thrown into a plot, some are about plots being painstakingly put together by the characters' inabilities to overcome their own fatal and crippling flaws, and this show is definitely the latter - so, it's necessary to have a strong cast of characters and actors. For the most part, it does: Despite Alfie Enoch's somewhat tortured attempts at an American accent, the acting is by and large very good, with Viola Davis and Jack Falahee being the two most outstanding members of the cast. The influence of some cast members over the show's writing has also, surprisingly, only led to good things: It was at Davis' suggestion that the iconic scene of Annalise removing her 'battle armour' - make-up, wig, fake eyelashes - was included, and that remains one of the most striking scenes of the first half of the show.

The set design is also lovely, and the soundtrack - which includes, at one point, Bastille's 'No One's Here To Sleep' - is also very good. So that's always nice. Nothing more I can really say about that. 

It's not a perfect show, but I think one of the reason it pings so hard on my 'not entirely perfect' radar is that it's so close to being so (or practically so, at least). It's definitely one of the best US TV shows of the season, and one of the most popular, which is a pretty big deal considering that its principle six person cast has three black people and three women, and we all know how antsy and disquieted Americans get by the mere suggestion that black people or women could ever possibly be the leads on television or, indeed, anywhere. 

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