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Take a Trip to Shondaland

September 27, 2014

HowToGetAwayWithMurder

Shondaland is back and bigger than ever!  Thursday night is owned by Shonda Rhimes, with the return of hits Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, and the series premiere of the highly anticipated How to Get Away with Murder. And Rhimes doesn’t disappoint.

It’s business as usual at Grey Sloane Memorial Hospital. Missing livers, gurneys falling from the sky, conflict, and secrets and lies abound as we see the doctors deal with Christina Yang (Sandra Oh) leaving, a new head of cardio, Callie (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) discussing babies and career opportunities, Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and Derek (Patrick Dempsey) fighting about his new job, Karev (Justin Chambers) and Bailey (Chandra Wilson) fighting over a board seat and Webber (James Pickens Jr.) deciding not to reveal that he’s Pierce’s (Kelly McCreary) father. Drama, both personal and medical, starting off the show’s 11th season and showing no sign of slowing down. There is something strange about watching the show without Christina, especially since Meredith now has to turn to Karev for advice and consoling. She and Pierce are butting heads now, but I’m predicting that Pierce will become something of a new Christina for Meredith as the season progresses.

I found the last season of Scandal to be fundamentally disappointing. It was all over the place, over the top, and overdramatic. The season four premiere put all of that to bed with a return to the show’s original premise: Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) is a fixer. In the premiere, her associates are no longer working together, President Grant (Tony Goldwyn) is hyperfocused after the death of his son, whereas his wife Mellie (Bellamy Young) is the opposite, walking around the white house in sweats and eating cereal out of the box. As for Olivia, she and Jake Ballard (Scott Foley) are on a tropical island doing nothing but reading, drinking wine and having sex. Sounds nice, right? Except that she learns that Harrison (Columbus Short) is dead, and must return to Washington DC to arrange the funeral. Her return is met icily by everyone she knows, and she plans to return to the island, but she gets pulled into a case and we get to see the Olivia Pope of season one: passionate, driven, and not pining over the President every other scene. In fact, when they pass, they do not even acknowledge each other. I’m sure it won’t last, but the season is off to a great start nonetheless.

But the real star of the evening is How to Get Away with Murder. This drama is smart, compelling, gritty and delicious. Viola Davis plays Annalise Keating, a no-nonsense lawyer and professor teaching a group of law students about being a defense attorney by having them actually help her on cases. She intends to select four of them to intern for her. If this reminds you of Legally Blonde, you’re not alone. But that is where the similarities end. The star of this show is not the naive but well intentioned new student, even though that’s how Wes Gibbins (Alfred Enoch) is painted, but Davis herself. She is manipulative, driven, smart, and will do whatever she has to in order to get the verdict she wants. Davis’ portrayal is flawless, every moment thought out and deliberate. It is like taking a master class in acting to watch her. This character is a perfect vehicle for her talent and skill and I look forward to watching her play it for years to come.

That is not to say that the other actors aren’t good: they’re excellent. And they’re lucky. The writing is top notch, though that is no surprise coming from Shondaland. Not only was there the mystery of the episode in terms of the trial, but there are at least two other mysteries already bubbling that are bound to converge. One is a missing girl, who is found dead by the end of the episode, and there are already three suspects. The other is the fact that four of the star students are trying to cover up a murder, though that takes place three months in the future. No doubt more of both those storylines will appear as we learn more about Keating’s life and how she runs her business and her class, and the lives of the star students that will be working with her.

Last season’s big breakout hit was NBC’s The Blacklist, which is still going strong, but I predict that How To Get Away With Murder will become the most watched, most talked about, most successful new show of the season, and I can’t wait to go on that ride.

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