Shonda Rhimes adds to her TV dominance with "How to Get Away with Murder," starring Viola Davis as a brilliant but troubled law professor. The new show was created by Peter Nowalk (Rhimes executive produced), who's put in time on both "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal," so you can expect a few pages from the Shonda Rhimes playbook. Here's our scoop on the new show, and what it has in common with the other two.
1. Female lead character
Rhimes always puts a woman front and center on her shows, and that woman is usually someone who’s very good at her job but a little less great at her love life. Meredith Grey and Olivia Pope may not have much more than that in common, but they're both complicated, flawed, fascinating women, and Davis’ Annalise Keating is much the same. Keating swings between hard as nails and fragile, with no indication of when she's being honest about how she feels.
2. Diverse cast
Rhimes so casually and competently fills her shows with people of color that it seems just plain lazy when other shows have all white casts. Of the central cast on “HTGAWM,” straight white men are definitely in the minority. At this point, it's almost passe to point this characteristic of a Rimes show out, but with so many other shows making so little effort at diversity or relegating people of color to wacky best friend roles, it's still worth mentioning.
3. Distinctive costuming
“Grey”’s has its unusually foxy scrubs and McDreamy’s colorful bandanas, and “Scandal” is so known for its designer clothing that star Kerry Washington worked with the show’s costume designer, Lyn Paolo, on a line of clothing inspired by Olivia Pope’s wardrobe. On “HTGAWM,” we predict it’s Keating’s red leather jacket that will be catching eyes.
4. Increasing darkness
"Grey's Anatomy," despite its trainwrecks, explosions and romantic drama, is still generally a show in which the characters are trying to be good people. "Scandal," to put it lightly, features people not so concerned with that. "HTGAWM" continues down that path. In the pilot alone, there's infidelity and the suggestion that half the main characters are helping murderers go free or committing the crime themselves.
5. Incriminating relationships
Meredith has a relationship with her boss, and Olivia has that whole situation with the president, but "HTGAWM" has, so far, exclusively romantic relationships that are likely to cause trouble for the participants. There are people having affairs with partners who might have committed crimes, while others leverage their secret relationships to get what they want. On this show, the most harmless relationships might just be between the people only betraying work bonds by being together.
6. The dangers of unbridled ambition
Both "Grey's" and "Scandal" are filled with people striving to reach the top of their respective fields. "HTGAWM" is just as concerned with the cost of ambition, as its core group of law students is battling tooth and nail to prove themselves in Keating's class. The show seems set to explore exactly what it takes to succeed, and what gets lost along the way. Do not expect a central friendship like Meredith and Cristina. No one on this show is here to make friends.
Follow Lisa Weidenfeld on Twitter at @LisaWeidenfeld.