One of the most anticipated new shows of the fall premieres tonight, a drama created by someone named Shonda Rhimes — you might have heard of her.

All kidding aside, tonight marks the start of a three-hour block of all-Shonda Rhimes programming, starting with Grey’s Anatomy, then Scandal and finally How to Get Away with Murder. (Such an ominous title, but very apt.) It’s amazing how much power she holds with ABC. But it doesn’t come as a surprise considering how talented she is.

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How to Get Away with Murder stars Academy Award nominee Viola Davis as Annalise Keating, a professor at Middleton Law School. We’ve all seen the fantastic promos where she walks into her class and says, “I don’t know what terrible things you’ve done in your life up to this point. But clearly your karma is out of balance to get assigned to my class.” She then starts writing on the chalkboard and continues: “This is Criminal Law 100, or as I prefer to call it…” Finally, she turns around and gives this dramatic look to her students while saying, “How to Get Away with Murder.”

If that alone hasn’t drawn you in, I don’t know what will. From just that, you can tell that Davis was the only person who could do this character justice. And after watching the pilot, I still stand by that statement — the way she embodies Keating is so alluring — she’s tough, menacing and not to be crossed.

I have to compare her and this show to The Blacklist. As season 1 of the NBC drama aired, we all knew that James Spader as Red Reddington was the draw of the show; he’s the reason why we watch, because of his brilliant acting and the way he too embodies the character. The same can be said of Davis with Murder. No one else on the cast of either show comes close to matching them.

That’s not to say other aspects of How to Get Away with Murder are not intriguing. The big mystery is a cover-up that some of her own students are involved in, which we see via flashforwards. There’s quite the revelation at the end of the pilot regarding this storyline that will make your jaw drop.

But speaking of the students, the main character of this group is Wesley Gibbins, played by Alfred Enoch. (If he looks familiar to you, he was Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter films.) In a way, he’s a fish-out-of-water kind of guy because he’s not all that prepared when he enters Keating’s class, unlike the rest of the students. Can he overcome the obstacles put in his way and rise to her expectations?

Keating sets up an opportunity for four students to work for her. You see, this isn’t just any old law class. As she says, “I will not be teaching you how to study the law or theorize about it, but rather how to practice it in a courtroom.” What she’s having her students do seems a tad excessive for a 100-level class. Then again, I’ve never been to law school — or had a professor like Annalise Keating.

But anyway, the way they earn that opportunity to work for her is by providing the best case in favor of someone who’s on trial. Through this, we meet the other students that will be the focus of the series: Laurel (Karla Souza), Connor Walsh (Jack Falahee), Michaela Pratt (Aja Naomi King) and Asher Millstone (Matt McGorry). Most if not all of them are confident and willing to do whatever it takes to be chosen by Keating. Their personalities are the opposite of Wesley’s.

There’s also Keating’s law associates: Frank Delfino (Charlie Weber) and Bonnie Winterbottom (Liza Weil). And Wesley’s neighbor Rebecca, who is kind of mysterious — there’s more than meets the eye with her, which is teased in the pilot.

Despite some of the students having win-at-all-cost mentalities, the characters I’ve mentioned (aside from Wesley, and to an extend Rebecca because of the mystery surrounding her) don’t have much dimension to them yet. Since we’ll be seeing them regularly over the course of this series, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of time for that to change. It doesn’t help, of course, that Viola Davis looms over everyone in a way where it’s hard to get out from under her shadow.

However, some of their actions do spark interesting moments for the show, whether it’s creating an argument to discredit a witness or using unethical behavior to get new evidence. And because Keating has named the class How to Get Away with Murder, you can bet she’s willing to cross that line in order to make sure her clients are found innocent because, according to her, she’s just doing her job, as she says in the below trailer:

There are a handful of twists and turns throughout the pilot; many of them I’ve mentioned throughout this review. Despite some of the characters not standing out a whole lot yet, there is so much more that makes up for it while any weaknesses sort themselves out: Viola Davis, a murder cover-up, secrets that some of the characters are trying to hide. So much intrigue and drama.

Shonda Rhimes is at it again. Considering how hot Scandal is right now, she’s using that magic touch of hers to create a hit show all over again. And I believe it’ll work. Viola Davis’ brilliant acting will lure you in, but the mysteries will keep you watching. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Rhimes has some tricks up her sleeve to make the series even better than it already is as season 1 unfolds. 

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Will you be tuning in to How to Get Away with Murder? If so, is Viola Davis the reason why? And does Shonda Rhimes have another hit on her hands?

How to Get Away with Murder premieres tonight at 10pm on ABC.

(Image and video courtesy of ABC)

Jeff Dodge

Staff Writer, BuddyTV

Jeff Dodge, a graduate of Western Washington University, has been a TV news editor for many years and has had the chance to interview multiple reality show stars, including Randy Jackson, Nick Cannon, Heidi Klum, Mel B and John Cena.