High Definition
How To Get Away With Murder And The Geeking Of TV Drama

Bob Chipman | 3 Nov 2014 14:00
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Even apart from main-character Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) being a stone-cold hardcase with a nasty streak and a closet full of (maybe literal) skeletons whom the world is resigned to putting up with because she's just. That. Damn. Good a'la House M.D.'s titular pill-popping sociopath diagnostician, Murder resembles no other prior TV offering moreso than that series' famous fourth season "new team" arc; in as much as both were structured around a darkly-mischevious "teacher" playing mind-games with a class of hopeful students turned would-be underlings.

In the show, Keating is a famous (infamous, if we're being honest) defense attorney who also teaches a hotly sought-after, high-stakes class at a prestigious law school - sought-after because she routinely plucks "promising" students and gives them a shot at the fast-track as dirty-work gophers at her firm. The pilot episode kicks off the first season's basic scenario and structure: Keating and her trio of chosen-ones dig into the case-of-the-week while their various personality quirks and personal connections crash into one another (Annalise has a husband and a secret-lover, who happens to be a detective) and a whodunit involving a murdered student that hits close to home rears its head as the overarching storyline of the broader season. Meanwhile, flash-forward scenes (about one per episode) follow the gophers as they frantically meet up in a forest at night to burn a body - which turns out to be that of Annalise's husband. Subsequent episodes continue the same format, with the dead-student story and the flash-forwards filling in more details as they go.

Change-out Nowalk/Rhimes' commitment to diversity with something a bit more "edgy-TV-typical" (yet another gravely white bad-dad instead of Annalise, maybe a "hawt bi-chick" or three in place of Jack Falahee's ambitious, openly-gay Connor) and it would sound like a cable fixture getting ready for a Breaking Bad-style rubdown from critics and a True Detective weekly parsing of references and continuity details on "geek culture" sites. But it's a network drama, and it superficially looks/sounds like one (read: aimed at an older, marginally-majority female audience, more diverse overall than cable/film are typically expected to be), so just how "geeky" it's structure and the demands it places on its fans are seems to pass by the wayside.

The "geeking" of popular-entertainment has a very simple origin: The mass-availability of information has made the community/connection-building that only the hardest of hardcore fandoms had the commitment to build in the past exponentially easier to create now. For all the self-flattery that used to exist in nerd/geek circles about the seeming inaccessibility of certain fan-cultures being the result of a smarter, sharper, more "committed" consumership has been put to lie - first by the worldwide mainstream embrace of franchise-fare like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and now by prime-time soap's enthusiastically embracing storytelling models once more at home in the pages of Giant-Size Man-Thing (look it up) and yet huge swaths of the critical press haven't seemed to have clued into it yet, tossing out embarrassing invective about "alternatives" without noticing that their throwing red paint onto a red wall.

Talk about Getting Away with something.


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