A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that How to Get Away with Murder is a drama with an ensemble cast of law students who work with a powerful, complicated attorney and professor. Most of the action falls along the police-procedural spectrum; expect graphic descriptions of violence, death, and murder, occasional depictions of dead bodies, and plot twists concerning terrible deeds. Also expect references to sex as well as on-screen sexual activity, including a character shown in silhouette having extramarital sex on a desk and one man exhorting another man to "turn over" in bed. Lawyers are willing to take morally questionable or unethical actions to win cases; they are praised for doing so and receive no consequences. Many scenes take place in bars, and characters refer to needing a drink. Cursing is generally mild ("Get the hell out of here!") but can be sexist: "Stop acting like a little bitch."
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What's the story?
Created by Shonda Rhimes' production company, HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER circles around powerful defense attorney and criminal law professor Annalise Keating (Viola Davis), a woman with a complicated life. She'll do almost anything to win the freedom of the innocent (or the guilty) accused criminals she defends; at home, she's placating loyal husband Sam (Tom Verica) with promises of a baby; and she's carrying on a hot and very morally questionable affair with a local detective, Nate (Billy Brown). The story picks up at the beginning of the year in Keating's classroom, a time when she selects a group of the most promising law students to come work at her law firm. The group this year includes naive newbie Wes Gibbins (Alfred Enoch); overachiever Michaela Pratt (Aja Naomi King); prickly outsider Laurel Castillo (Karla Souza); amoral party boy Connor Walsh (Jack Falahee); and Ivy League frat boy Asher Millstone (Matt McGorry). It's a group of individuals so different that there's no way they should even know each other, much less be working together shoulder to shoulder. But when Wes becomes entangled with a mysterious neighbor who's the chief suspect in the murder of a local coed, and all five of the students and Annalise herself are mixed up in a murder that's decidedly closer to home, they'll have to find a way to make things work.
Is it any good?
Viewers will be a bit disappointed to learn that, though How to Get Away with Murder is executive-produced by Shonda Rhimes and is made by her company, ShondaLand, Rhimes herself didn't crank out the script. Thus Murder lacks the deliriously insane spark that makes other Rhimes-penned shows such as Scandal or network stalwart Grey's Anatomy so compulsively watchable. Instead, though Viola Davis is so powerful on the small screen that she practically shoots sparks, she's working with material that's beneath her. The plot is so overstuffed with details about what seems to be a grand total of at least 10 main characters that even ultra-compelling ones such as Davis' Keating don't get enough screen time.
Still, breathless as it is, Murder is fun. The cast is cute and seems committed to the material, and taking on a case-of-the-week structure with longer-lasting story arcs about the characters' personal lives makes for a reliable source of drama. Fans of legal dramas, and Rhimes fans in particular, should at least give it a shot for the magnetic presence of Davis to see if this one merits a spot on your DVR schedule.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why legal dramas are such an enduring staple of network television. What types of ongoing possibilities for plots do they offer? Why would this be attractive for a television series?
Do the lawyers in How to Get Away with Murder act like real lawyers who might take on homicide cases? Why, or why not? What about them seems realistic or unrealistic to you?
Have you watched any other shows by executive producer Shonda Rhimes? How are they like this show or unlike it? Does Rhimes' involvement make you want to like the show or make you less likely to watch? Would your opinion change if you knew that Rhimes didn't write the script for this show?