How to Get Away With Murder: “Smile, or Go to Jail” Review

Well, Shonda Rhimes has done it again. She dazzled us with Grey’s Anatomy, she shocked us with Scandal, and now she’s combined them to create How to Get Away with Murder.

Annalise Keating (played by the fabulously talented Viola Davis) is a criminal law professor at Middleton University. She doubles as a cutthroat defense attorney who merges both professions into one. Every year, she selects a group of her finest law students to help her with her cases. This year, her group is made up of Wes Gibbins (Alfred Enoch), Connor Walsh (Jack Falahee), Michaela Pratt (Aja Naomi King), Asher Millstone (Matt McGorry – our favorite Orange is the New Black security guard), and Laurel Castillo (Karla Souza). Annalise’s professional team consists of Frank Delfino (Charlie Weber) and Bonnie Winterbottom (Liza Weil).


Keating is married to another Middleton professor, but is cheating on him with Detective Nate Lahey (Billy Brown). One of her husband’s students, Lyla, was found dead near her sorority house and it was pronounced a homicide. During that time, her husband was supposed to be at Yale, but Annalise suspects he was involved. Wes lives next to a girl named Rebecca (Katie Findlay) and two become romantically involved. Rebecca knows Lyla’s boyfriend, a star football player at Middleton. Their relationship is unclear.

This show doesn’t follow traditional television guidelines. The first few minutes of the pilot episode are set three months in the future. The five students on Keating’s team are in a forest, panicking about a murder they are involved in. The shot then cuts to three months prior – the first day of Keating’s class. Wes is unprepared, freaking over not having done his assignment. Michaela is a type A teacher’s pet. Asher is the know-it-all; Connor is the mysterious, gay detective. And Laurel is the introverted, skeptical law student.

We find out towards the end of the first couple episodes that the students are involved in the murder of Keating’s husband, Sam (Tom Verica). We know that Rebecca is also involved and that Wes wants to keep her safe. That’s the amazing thing about this show: As the audience, we know EVERYTHING. There are cliffhangers, as there are with any Shonda Rhimes show, but for the most part, we are completely in the loop. We get to be an outside party that knows everything about everyone.

The third episode is set two months before Sam’s murder. Middleton University, in an effort to protect their star football player, Griffin O’Reilly, want Annalise and her team to defend him because he is a suspect in his girlfriend’s homicide. Keating has also taken up the case of Elena Aguilar, charged with felony and murder in connection with the bombing of the World Financial Institute in 1994. Annelise Keating loves a challenge. The FBI has Elena’s fingerprints on a bomb fragment that exploded and killed a janitor, but Annelise takes the case anyways.

Every court case is mirrored with a lesson in Criminal Law. The shots alternate between Annelise quizzing her students and questioning her witnesses. The techniques discussed in class are used in the courtroom; all while suspenseful music builds up the anticipation. The show also affectively alternates between present day and the months prior. Majority of the show takes place in the months before Sam Keating’s murder, but each time we flash forward to present day, we learn more and more about the murder and who was involved.

Keating meets with Griffin to hear his defense. He says that he and Rebecca were having sex and Lyla saw. Lyla was furious, so she stormed out. However, he says Rebecca was glad. Griffin believes that Rebecca murdered his girlfriend. Wes on the other hand, feels badly for Rebecca and wants to defend her. He convinces Keating to take her case instead of defending the football star. Elena runs away with the man who led the bombing attacks in 1994, Gabriel. The two are last seen in the episode on a bus, and Elena’s case is put on hold while she is tracked down. The episode ends with Rebecca confessing to Lyla’s murder, which comes as a shock to Keating.

How to Get Away with Murder is a thriller that has something for everyone. Whether it is the romance and forbidden love between Keating and Nate or the intense courtroom scenes, this show does it all. If you want to get your heart pumping and be on the edge of your seat, just turn on ABC at 10/9 CT

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