'How To Get Away With Murder': TV Review

A powerful defense attorney and professor enlists her students in what might turn out to be illegal dirty work. 

Viola Davis is great in new ABC drama, but likability and plausibility are an issue — for some

There's little doubt that Shonda Rhimes fans of Scandal and Grey's Anatomy will also tune in to tonight's premiere of How To Get Away With Murder, starring Viola Davis. The series is created and written by Rhimes' protege Pete Nowalk and is part of the Thursday night Rhimes juggernaut.

How To Get Away With Murder has many of the soapy, crazy elements popular in the other two, along with a very strong lead female character in Davis, who is riveting throughout. Like a handful of actors out there, Davis can shine through whatever material she's given.

Murder is also different from the other two series in that it's more of a murder-mystery or thriller wrapped around a week-by-week procedural where brilliant criminal defense attorney Annalise Keating (Davis) works to free clients.

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Unfortunately, Murder has a number of flaws. First — and this may ultimately be appealing to some — there's really no one likeable to root for here. Keating is tough and gruff, which is easy to get over, but she's also manipulative and not particularly interested in justice, fairness or legality — ethically there's a lot of gray in her life. Plus, the big red flag at play in this first season is that there's a murder Keating and her students are somehow involved in. Did they do it? Did she do it? Will they get away with it? Will it take a full season before viewers find out that maybe they didn't do it and they are really just heroes?

If there's a reason to stick around to find out, it's because Davis is so magnetic. But there's some logic issues that are hard to get over. First-year law students in Keating's class are vying for precious spots — working for Keating's firm. As if these bright but supergreen legal newbies would suddenly be trusted over more seasoned law students or, say, graduates who have passed the bar.

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The students are not very likeable either. (Are law students on television ever very likeable?) In Murder, you get the sense they would murder each other to work for Keating (which is why four of them appear to be covering up the murder in question during the pilot).

Eventually these competitive creatures who are quick to sell their souls to get ahead may prove to be characters the audience roots for. But part of the Murder DNA seems to be that the end justifies the means. It doesn't look like law and order are really the central themes, which is fine, but I'm not sure devious holds long-term appeal.

It doesn't help that Keating's main employees at the firm, Frank (Charlie Weber) and Bonnie (Liza Weil) are weaselly schemers in their own right. But maybe that's what Nowalk is going for in Murder — glossy gray areas and crazy, full-steam-ahead scenarios that are not meant to hold up to scrutiny.

Not that it matters much. Thursday nights on ABC are target-oriented and the audience for one is probably the audience for all three, and that means Murder will get away with its faults.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine