Last night, Shonda Rhimes unveiled another new series to add to her repertoire of highly anticipated Thursday night entertainment alongside “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal.” “How To Get Away with Murder” stars Academy Award-winning actress Viola Davis as highly successful, no-nonsense criminal defense attorney and law school professor, Annalise Keating, at the fictitious Middleton Law School. Immediately, viewers are exposed to Professor Keating’s direct, abrasive and, yet, unsuspecting personality — all of which rendered me very intrigued from the first scene.
To sum it all up very succinctly; I think we have a winner here ladies!
As an attorney, and former law school student, I have been exposed to law school professors and criminal defense attorneys with similar “no-nonsense” attitudes such as Davis’ leading lady, as well as extremely thirsty law students seeking to be the best in class. Professor Keating is a shark, and makes no apologies about it. Though I can draw upon past law school experiences in relation to “How To,” this show depicts the uglier side of the law, relationships and ultimate student desires to please their professors to get to the top by any means necessary, and I LOVED every minute of it.
Professor Keating immediately sets the tone as the boss of things via her opening statement to her students. She is calculated and unapologetic about her targeted Socratic Method of questioning directed towards her students. Additionally, she consistently pushes them to bring out their best, as reflected by her harsh delivery in class (“Never take a learning opportunity away from another student, no matter how smart you need everyone to think you are,” she chastises one student). Her invitation to continue learning on a practical and not theoretical level at her office, and also by commencing a competition amongst all of them to assist in the defense of one of her current cases. To put it simply, her students want to both study under her and also be just like her.
The focal characters of the series appear to be five overzealous and focused first year law students who have an immense interest in criminal law…and appear to have gotten themselves in a sticky situation that might require them to use all they learn in class. Now let me tell you, these types of students do in fact exist, and they are just as creepy and annoying as the ones portrayed in the show. Waitlisted student, Wes Gibbins, who has an uncanny resemblance to black-faced C. Thomas Howard in Soul Man appears to be the lead student of the pack. He seems just so very happy to be in the class, and seeks to prove himself to his fellow students who look down on him. He is focused, yet, unassuming. He is smart, yet, silenced by his peers. He also walked in on his married professor receiving oral sex on her desk from some FOINE specimen of a man, who we later learn is Nate Lahey, Keating’s boyfriend on the side/detective/witness in the case. GO HEAD SHONDA!!
I, along with a couple of my girlfriends had to feverishly discuss this scene over What’s App and collectively rewind several times just to take stock of what we just witnessed. Nice Shonda! Very Nice!
This first episode introduced the primary characters in a way that kept me glued to the television. Exactly who or what is wrapped up in that carpet? What are all of the students working on together? Did they really just kill someone, or is this a game or re-enactment of a case? Did Professor really just throw shade on contract attorneys and their chubby paralegals? Was Keating’s husband messing off with the student who was missing and later found dead on the college campus? And WHO KILLED HIM??
I want to know. I NEED to know!!
I must confess; I had, and to this day still have, no desire whatsoever to practice criminal law. I figured this out while interning with the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office in my hometown of Memphis, TN after my first year of law school. After visiting crime scenes and morgues, seeing old family friends in court for drug charges, witnessing defense attorneys being physically threatened by their clients, and watching a hearing of a very nice looking man accused of brutally killing a prostitute and leaving her in the back of a U-Haul truck, I quickly concluded after the first month of the internship that criminal law ain’t my cup of tea. Despite my aversion to practicing in this area of law, I will say my criminal law classes were, for the most part, nothing like what was portrayed on the show.
To some the chalkboard setting seemed out-of-place, but I was in law school 2001-2003 (yeeeeaarrssss ago) so our professors did use chalkboards and the boards with erasable ink. We did not have computerized and/or mobile devices in the classrooms (outside of our personal laptops). But outside of those similarities, my criminal law 100 class focused more on theory (which Viola stated her class was not going to). We learned elements of crimes and how law makers came up with those elements and the intent of laws. In the show, Viola stated they would learn the practical side of the law, meaning how to try a case, seek jurors, obtain evidence, the everyday duties and tasks necessary to protect your client. When I took a criminal law clinic my third year, we were not invited to our professor’s offices (outside of the law school) to help them with a trial, and nothing would have allowed us to skip an exam. Maybe these are differences subjective to schools and regions, but it seems the writers took a few liberties.
Still, I feel connected to Professor Keating and her students. Shonda Rhimes has added enough suspense, sex appeal and legal jargon law students accrue ridiculous amounts of student debt to learn to get us hooked….AGAIN. I’ll be back for episode two!
What did you think of the premiere?
Rashida Maples, Esq. is Founder and Managing Partner of J. Maples & Associates. She has practiced Entertainment, Real Estate and Small Business Law for 9 years, handling both transactional and litigation matters. Her clients include R&B Artists Bilal and Olivia, NFL Superstar Ray Lewis, Fashion Powerhouse Harlem’s Fashion Row and Hirschfeld Properties, LLC.