A 'How to' show

Photo courtesy of ABC

TV drama pushes the legal boundaries

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

Easily one of the biggest new shows of the 2014-15 season and a bona fide hit, the ABC legal thriller “How to Get Away with Murder” – which ended its first season February 26 with a cliffhanger – has generated plenty of water-cooler talk.

“‘Murder’ is such a compelling crime drama, you might not even notice that it is also one of the most fundamentally radical shows today. With its frank depictions of gay sex and its diverse cast of fabulous characters, it is doing more for racial and sexual diversity than any other show on broadcast TV,” said Farmington Hills native Allison Leotta, an alumna of Michigan State University and Harvard Law School, who has written three best-selling legal thrillers about a sex crimes prosecutor in Washington, D.C.

Created by Peter Nowalk, whose past credits include “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” – both created by Shonda Rhimes, who serves as an executive producer of “Murder” – the freshman drama chronicles the lives of Annalise Keating (Oscar nominee Viola Davis, “Doubt”), a high-profile criminal defense attorney who teaches law at the fictional Middleton University in Pennsylvania, and five of her best and brightest law students: Connor Walsh (Ann Arbor Huron High School alumnus Jack Falahee, “The Carrie Diaries”), Wes Gibbins (Alfred Enoch, the “Harry Potter” movies), Laurel Castillo (Karla Souza, “From Prada to Nada”), Asher Millstone (Matt McGorry, “Orange is the New Black”), and Michaela Pratt (Aja Naomi King, “Emily Owens, M.D.”).

Annalise is married to fellow professor Sam (Tom Verica, “American Dreams”), but both are having extra-marital affairs; Annalise with Det. Nate Lahey (Billy Brown, “Sons of Anarchy”) and Sam with sorority girl Lila Stangard (Megan West, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”). Eventually, both Sam and Lila are murdered, and Annalise’s students are entangled in both cases. Rebecca Sutter (Katie Findlay, “The Killing”), Wes’ girlfriend, is the prime suspect in Lila’s murder. Annalise’s involvement with Rebecca’s case challenges her students’ values, convictions, and dreams, as she teaches them the dark truth about the law and the American justice system.

“I think it’s great. Smart, entertaining, terrific strong female protagonist,” said Leotta.

In the two-hour season finale, Annalise and her students stage a trial for Rebecca, accusing her of Lila’s murder. At the end of this episode, not only is Lila’s killer revealed, but Rebecca is found dead and it’s implied one of the Annalise’s five students is responsible as the curtain falls on the first season.

Although ABC hasn’t made any official announcements, “Murder” will be returning for a second season in the fall, as revealed in a statement by Davis and in a promo succeeding the season finale.

“Murder” has really pushed the boundaries in terms of sexual content. In the first episode, Connor – a manipulative sociopath – seduces an IT specialist named Oliver Hampton (Conrad Ricamora, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”) in order to obtain evidence for Annalise in a very graphic sex scene that sparked plenty of controversy and lit up social media.

“I was a bit surprised to see that scene on network TV, which clearly realizes that in order to compete with Netflix and cable, you have to push the envelope,” said Robert J. Fox, a teacher at Huron, Falahee’s alma mater. Fox – who teaches English, as well as acting and media studies at Huron – never had Falahee in any of his classes and added, tongue-in-cheek: “So I told my students that the key to breaking into Hollywood is to NOT take one of my classes.”

Falahee has his own opinion on the Connor/Oliver sex scene.

“I can’t to speak to the same sex couples on other Rhimes shows… but from my understanding, especially in the pilot episode with Connor and Oliver having sex, it was the first time we really saw two guys really going at it, which caused a lot of dialogue – pretty interesting. It’s interesting that people are reacting the way they are,” said Falahee. “I do think that if it was a relationship between a man and a woman, no one would’ve written about it, spoken about it, or Tweeted about it. The fact that it’s a homosexual relationship and it’s raising eyebrows speaks a lot to our society. In 5-10 years, this won’t be a conversation to be had.”

Nowalk, who’s openly gay, stated in several interviews that creating Connor is wish fulfillment for him because Connor doesn’t have a problem with being gay, nor comes from a background where people didn’t have a problem with his homosexuality.

“(Nowalk’s) trying to show real people,” said Falahee. “That’s what he’s done and what he’s achieved. When the show premiered, I remember someone on Twitter tweeting me and (Nowalk saying, ‘Thank you for showing gay man as a real person and not as a punchline.’

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