Confession time: I love my books classy, and my tv trashy. No joke, I would rather marathon a season of America’s Next Top Model than watch Band of Brothers, and Bravo beats out the History channel in my mind any day. So when I say that “How To Get Away With Murder” is almost certain to be my new, favorite tv series, I am not recommending it for the serious-minded. Great, lasting entertainment it is not. Instead it’s a fast-paced, character-driven semi-procedural that set itself up following the Rule of Threes perfectly. There are three murders in the first episode (granted, one was attempted, but it’s the thought that counts, right?) three affairs, and three interesting characters (along with the other assorted “types” that one encounters at any law school.)
The show structures itself well, and delivers an engaging pilot that gives the viewers good insight into what the show will be like on a regular basis. One part procedural, with the series’ pivotal character, Professor Annalise Keating, presenting a new “real-life” case to her class every episode, and two parts overarching series questions. What the show doesn’t do as well, is cling to reality. The show is rife with mistakes that will instantly be spotted by anyone with even a basic inkling of the law, or how law school works. “Law & Order” this show is not. In fact, many of the mistakes go beyond cinema’s traditional distaste for the boring side of the law, and go directly to the kind of actions that would not only get a lawyer fired, but likely disbarred. Sensing that this disregard for reality will be a mainstay of the show, I’ve decided that my weekly recaps (we’ll see if I can stick to it) will take a leaf out of Professor Keating’s book, and be titled: How To Get A Law License Revoked.
1. While acting as a “to-notch” defense lawyer, also teach an introductory law class. Viola Davis is a force to be reckoned with, as she portrays the show’s pivotal character, Annalise Keating. Even Viola Davis, formidable as she may be, cannot make me believe that any individual, no matter how amazing, can balance teaching a first year law course along with being a full-time practicing attorney: especially unbelievable is that she was teaching a class literally two days before a media-circus of a trial. And we’re not talking about the kind of top-notch lawyer who leaves it to the associates to handle direct examinations, who just sweeps in at the end for the crosses and closing argument: the show implies that Ms. Keating handles the entire trial on her own, with minimal assistance from her two young, comely associates. I’m going to guess that the 70-plus students in her Criminal Law class don’t get the opportunity to spend time at office hours. I also assume that their exam will be scantron.
Keating with the other characters, including three gunners, the idealistic girl, the idealistic boy, the rebel next door, the sexy associates, and. . .oh, the detective that I guess will be in more than one episode.
2. Ignore the Professional Rules of Responsibility — Attorney-Client Confidentiality is a thing of the past! Granted, the confidentiality belongs to the client, so I suppose that it’s possible that the defendant in Keating’s biggest case was willing to waive it so that a gaggle of twenty-something, upstart law students can listen to her interview two days before her trial. Granted, now anything that she says can be disclosed to the prosecution, but it’s all in the name of education!
3. HIPAA only applies to the unambitious. One of the “brilliant” moments in the premiere features Keating discrediting a witness by revealing that she’s is colorblind. How did Keating come to learn this important fact? Because one of her students called the witness’s optometrist and asked nicely for her medical files. No subpoena, no waiver, she just asked nicely. Thank goodness those doctors aren’t worried about privacy rights any longer!
Aw, look at the cast getting along — and none of the women are wearing pants. But at least one is wearing flats.
3. It’s totally okay to hide Brady/Jencks/Giglio material, but never okay to reference evidence that wasn’t provided during Discovery. Another genius move? One of Keating’s students sleeps with an IT specialist, and manages to get emails from the boss of the victim, stating that he would like to remove the victim from his position at the company based upon his relationship with the defendant. Now, those emails might not be Brady material, but they’re probably going to fall into Jencks/Giglio. So the prosecution might not want to be arguing against admitting them — and if they do, the first argument should probably be “hearsay,” since emails are almost always hearsay, and these in particular were clear hearsay, without any exception. Instead of arguing tat, the prosecution argues “they weren’t part of the discovery file!” Now, don’t get me wrong, arguing that something was illegally obtained is fine — but you better be able to back that up.
4. Candor to the Court is only a rule for the government. One of the cardinal ethical rules for lawyers is that of candor to the court. Lawyers cannot lie to a court, and they cannot knowingly elicit lying testimony from witnesses. Yet Keating does just that, in a move that may ultimately win her the case. She blackmails a police officer into perjuring himself, and she asks questions the entire way. But hey, ethics don’t count as long as your client goes free, right?
No joke, Keating is holding “the immunity idol.” It’s like they want to prove how trashy this show truly is!
5. Lawyers can testify and argue whenever they want. The prosecutor in the case remains largely silent, except for when he’s making objections or questioning a witness. Keating, on the other hands, wanders the courtroom, testifying and arguing without regard to whether someone is on the stand. She’ll ask leading questions for hostile witnesses, AND her own witnesses. And nobody is going to stop her, because listening to Viola Davis rant is a lot more fun than listening to a witness blandly recite facts.
6. A good law professor acknowledges the fact that all of her students will end up being competitive for BigLaw jobs. Perhaps one of the most-fun aspect of the show was listening to Keating warn her students that, if they don’t watch out, they’ll end up in corporate jobs, which they’ll hate. There are two amazing things about this: (1) many, MANY students go to law school specifically to go into transactional law, or to work for BigLaw; (2) law school is expensive, and based on Middleton’s exceptionally well-dressed students, I’m going to guess it cost a big buck. Those poor kids are going to make way more money working for Big Law than they ever would at a Public Defender’s office.
7. It’s absolutely okay to ignore the ABA and hire first year law students. The ABA has a nice rule for all 1Ls and accredited schools: 1Ls cannot even interview until December. Ostensibly, this is so that they have a full semester to adjust to the rigors of law school. In reality, it’s cruel torture. Thank goodness Professor Keating doesn’t care about the ABA, because she’s giving five 1Ls the opportunity to intern her right after the first week of classes. Sure, the school might lose it’s accreditation, she might lose her license, and those five students may never be allowed to sit for the Bar Exam, but just think of what a great opportunity it was for them!
But, for all of the things that How To Get Away With Murder got horribly, horribly wrong, it got some things right. I loved the kids quoting caselaw at one another — that lasts for 1L, and then promptly goes away. Loved little Wes (who I will forever think of as Dean Thomas) going to the professor and saying “hey, let’s ask for a directed verdict!” after one witness testified, and thinking it was a genius idea. Loved the way 90% of the class was wearing jeans and sweatshirts, and 10% (the gunners) were all dressed up, raising their hands, vociferously participating. Loved when a psych professor told the kids that 1L would be the hardest year. I heard that a thousand times from adults who had never been to law school — anyone who has been will tell you its 1L, FunL, and that 2L is the year of hell.
My new fall crush.
The other thing the show got right? Jack Falahee’s face. Granted, that is more due to his parents and the glory of genetics, but I will happily tune in to see his face every week. Also, thank goodness for a gay character who is in no way, shape, or form defined by his sexuality. The same goes for Viola Davis, as a woman who is not defined by her gender. She wears pants! She wears skirts! Sometimes she wears make-up, and sometimes she doesn’t! In that sense, the show is doing a fabulous job. The cast is promising — Viola Davis is amazing, of course, and Jack Falahee manages to look pretty, menacing, smart, controlled, and psychotic all at once. We’ve got Dean Thomas from Harry Potter, Paris from the Gilmore Girls, and that guy from Orange is the New Black. Watching talented actors deal with a batshit crazy script is going to make Thursday night my new favorite tv night.