How to Get Away With Absurd Plotlines

Sunday night, I finally finished season one of How to Get Away with Murder. Although I love Shonda Rhimes, I don’t usually watch a whole lot of shows that fall into the law-and-order genre. I have six lawyers in my family, so it’s often difficult for me to take these shows seriously; I can’t just watch them, I have to fact-check them as well. HTGAWM started out this way for me—some of the show’s story-lines are just the right amount of absurd, and others step right over that line into the totally unbelievable. But I realized early on that the plausibility of the show’s plotlines was something I would just have to get over if I wanted to enjoy it. With that out of the way, I found myself under the enchantment of Viola Davis, and not just because I think she’s wonderful in every way and we should all try harder to be more like her (watch her win her first Emmy for reference and try not to cry). The nuance of her character, Annalise Keating, is something admirable; not only do we, as viewers, have the opportunity to cheer her on for the bad-ass attorney she is, but we’re also invited to witness her (and still celebrate her) in moments of vulnerability as well.


Still from How to Get Away With Murder, “Let’s Get to Scooping” (Season 1, Episode 4, 2014.) Image from 

It’s not only refreshing but also inspiring to see a female character dominate so successfully in what is typically seen as a man’s world (i.e. law). But often times it seems like TV shows fall into a trend of pigeonholing female leads into “either/or” categories that don’t acknowledge them as complex characters with the capacity to evolve or share more than one story. HTGAWM is different. We see Annalise Keating as a go-getter attorney capable of shutting it DOWN in a courtroom, a woman who acknowledges (and actually fulfills!) her sexual needs/desires, a woman who finds herself emotionally altered and trapped by the actions of her cheating husband, a woman who struggles deeply with her own personal insecurities, etc. One of the most poignant scenes of the season is at the very end of episode four, in which Keating removes her makeup, takes off her wig, and calmly delivers the most damning line to her husband: “Why is your penis on a dead girl’s phone?” Watching her remove her makeup/wig (representing the removal of both a literal and figurative mask) before such a critical question was compelling. What makes it even better is that this idea was suggested by Viola Davis herself. Allowing Keating to present herself as an authentic human being makes her character and, consequently the show, feel more realistic.

Such a multifaceted presentation of womanhood is both significant and important. She’s not just the “powerhouse attorney”, the “unhappy wife”, the “intimidating professor”- she’s all of that, and more. It adds dimensions that are both relatable and human. Allowing Annalise to move beyond overused tropes makes the show worth watching, even if some of the story lines feel like a stretch. So, how do you get away with outrageous plot-lines? You ensure that the characters within them come across as realistic, multidimensional and unapologetically themselves. In other words, just put Viola Davis at the helm and let her do what she does best.

-Callie Sartain




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6 Responses to How to Get Away With Absurd Plotlines

  1. mediaphiles says:

    Let me just start by saying I LOVE this show (binge-watched it this summer and I’m so pumped season 3 just started)! I don’t know if you came to hear Viola Davis speak at Wake last year, but she talked about the very scene you described and how vulnerable she felt. Even though I hadn’t seen the show when I heard this lecture, I was captivated by Viola and knew I would like the show regardless of the storyline. I agree with you that this show can be absurdly unrealistic, but maybe that’s why I like it so much? Hope you like season 2! – Sarah King

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I have kept up with HTGAWM over the seasons, but I have decided that I hate it lol. I keep up because I love Shonda and it really is entertaining. But I personally hate the way Shonda suspends reality in this show, compared to Grey’s. The law students seem superficially smart – they randomly always have the right answers, but their characters seem too dumb to be capable of grasping the legal concepts they magically know in class. Annalise does not feel like an organic character, but kind of a bunch of really good meaningful pieces haphazardly put together. There is no way she would not be in jail by the time season 3 starts, and that frustrates me. The show feels over the top merely to keep the plotlines going, but not in a smart way.

    Elyse Conklin

  3. mediaphiles says:

    I love Shonda Rhimes but I just can’t get into HTGAWM! I watched the first season, but its just too dramatic for me. However, I think Viola is excellent. Similar to Kerry Washington in Scandal and Ellen Pompeo in Greys (which are two of my favorite shows), Viola plays a strong, whitty, and intelligent female character and I think this is what makes HTGAWM so interesting and appealing to people (just maybe not me). Ally Harper

  4. mediaphiles says:

    I love Shonda Rimes because of Grey’s Anatomy and I tried watching the first two seasons of How to Get Away with Murder but I felt it was super dragged out and almost too much. Viola is awesome but unfortunately the show did not interest me enough to keep watching.
    -Jenna Romano

  5. marymdalton says:

    I watched the first season but found myself getting bogged down and didn’t start the second season…

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