Shonda Rhimes, I HEART U!

Spoiler alert: The is one small spoiler from season one of HTGAWM (not related to any of the major plots).

I have been enjoying the hell out of a couple of Rhonda Shimes shows in the last few months. They’re not quite like anything I’ve seen before and half the time seem like longform music videos than real drama, but they are a wild, wild ride. Forget character arcs or reasonable actions by believable characters, these are a combination of haunted house and the roller coaster in her logo with everything set on one speed: as fast as you can push that mother. Don’t worry about suspending belief, just sit back and enjoy the mayhem.

Have a go on the wild ride

The Catch (season one): Maybe other shows have done split screen, unreliable points of view and similar tricks before, but has any show done them as entertainingly as this?

Are these two viewpoints simultaneous or years apart, who knows? who cares?

Of course the main character sneaks into a parking garage and breaks into an SUV with a crowbar in search of evidence while wearing a designer dress and stilettos. If you’re going to engage in high risk illegal actions then the right shoes are far more important than being able to make a quick unobtrusive getaway. You may be going to jail, but you’re gonna go in style!

How to Get Away with Murder (seasons one and two): This is only slightly less gimmicky in camera work and narrative choices than the Catch (or maybe even more so?) The initial and continuing murder(s) are McGuffins to keep the stakes high for the ensemble of dysfunctional trainwrecks masquerading as dramatis personae.

Like one of my favorite movies, Blood Simple, things are set up so that most characters think they know more than they do and then they act on that in terrible, terrible ways that bring about an escalation of horrible, complicated, consequences while miscommunicating with each other in the most disastrously bad ways possible.

Hiding bodies in the woods together is our team building exercise!

It helps that almost none of the main cast are really that likeable (or when they briefly are the terrible things they do cancel that out in short order). So far of the main cast, only Connor’s nerdy boyfriend Oliver is really consistently sympathetic (despite using his computer expertise to break many, many laws).

At the eye of the hurricane there’s Viola Davis in a truly remarkable performance that singlehandedly prevents the whole thing from sliding into slapstick comedy with dead bodies. Annalise is deeply damaged and hurting inside and lashes out at everyone around her in horrifically abusive language which is then reflected right back at her. Davis manages to make that part of her character completely realistic. She’s a genuinely tragic figure with a fatal flaw – her inability to treat others with kindness (which she herself has never known).

M is for the Murder she committtttted…..

Along the way the show has occasional nods to American Black culture that haven’t found their way on TV much. Before a fight with her husband she takes off her wig and jewellry and rubs vaseline into her face and hands. Her mother (the always amazing Cicely Tyson) comforts her by sitting behind her and combing her hair with a pick (while confessing to a murder of her own).

I don’t know if these are future of tv or not, but while the ride lasts they’re tremendously fun (and thanks to Davis occasionally truly moving).

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