Shonda Rhimes is the first person to ever own an entire night of network television (that being Thursday nights on ABC), which is just another way of saying that Shonda has made it so cool to be a strong black woman even Oprah’s jealous.

And while her newest baby, How To Get Away With Murder, is holding its Scandal lead-in audience, I was wondering how many tricks Shonda had left up her sleeve. Until this Thursday, of course.

How To Get Away With Murder, Scandal

At first blush, I perceived How To Get Away With Murder to be a sort of inverse version of Scandal.  Individual episodes of Scandal always feel like homeruns, delivering an over the top wallop that leaves you wanting more.  It is only when you consider the overall story that Scandal occasionally seems like it falls short.  By contrast, any given episode of How To Get Away With Murder might feel like a C-, but you get the sense that once the story is complete, it will be an A+.

I have more than a few complaints about Murder:  it’s flash-forward flash-back teasers lack cohesion, and while they certainly create anticipation of the big mystery yet to reveal itself, they also create a bit of confusion and frustration.  In addition, the characters who populate the team assembled by Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) lack depth and are in real need of a backstory.  So far, only Alfred Enoch’s wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing Wes Gibbins has three dimensions.  The comparisons to Scandal’s gladiators are inevitable, and I’m mindful of how that series offered early timely flashback sequences to show us where these characters came from and how they came to be who they were.  No such illumination has been forthcoming from Murder, and we are left with empty labels like the over-achiever (Aja Naomi King), the shy one (Karla Souza) and the office whore (Jack Falahee), although the latter is getting more interesting since it seems he will be losing his shit by the end of season 1.

But the most obvious comparison is between Davis’ Annalise Keating and Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope.  I thought the show was presenting Keating as a particularly harsh and unforgiving character, not at all likeable, until this week’s episode Let’s Get To Scooping.  While the episode teased a cliff hanger ending, and delivered, it was nothing compared to the build up, where Davis (apparently this scene was her idea), in close up, removes her wig, eyelashes and make up before confronting her husband with her spoiler-y discovery.   It is a fearless, flawless piece of acting, one very few 49 year old actresses would dare try much less suggest, and Davis clearly wants the Emmy she’s going to get nominated for.

How To Get Away With Murder, Viola Davis

Viola Davis takes off her face

Despite the irresistible nature of the yet-to-be fully disclosed mystery, How To Get Away With Murder plays awfully fast and loose with its storytelling, something which is easier to get away with in the less trod-upon more sleazy world of back alley politics and black ops hitsquads occupied by Scandal than it is with what is, basically, a lawyer soap.

Murder clearly has greatness in its DNA, but it has yet to show it with consistency on the small screen.  But if anyone can get away with it, Shonda Rhimes can.

Turning back to Scandal, Season 4 has shown more than ever that this is a show that is NOT greater than the sum of its parts, but what amazing and delicious parts!  The show continues to deliver a weekly gut punch that makes any shortcomings quite forgivable.

Sadly, Scandal continues to run on the energy it derives from the relationship between Olivia and the President (Tony Goldwyn).  I have never connected with this pairing, so one of the show’s primary sources of angst and elation eludes me.  The good news is there’s plenty of everything to go around.  The evolving love-hate relationship between Olivia and her dad (Joe Morton) is great, and Scandal has successfully managed a fractious break up of Olivia Pope & Associates to create new conflicts and interesting pairings (for example, Abby and Cyrus) where most shows would be lost without their past chemistry to lean on.

Scandal, Kerry Washington, Joe Morton

Who needs Olivia and Fitz?

Shonda Rhimes has now put her signature on the medical dramedy (Grey’s Anatomy), the political thriller (Scandal) and the legal drama (How To Get Away With Murder).  Are you thinking police procedural with a strong black woman as the captain of a diverse squad in a gritty city?  Someone see if Oprah is busy.

Bad Judge

I’m wondering if this can be the last “Bad” show I have to sit through.  Someone had the not so bright idea to make Bad Teacher into a weekly.  Thud.  Now we have Bad Judge, a Bad Teacher knock off that features (stop me if you’ve heard it) Judge Rebecca Wright, a female lead character who acts completely inappropriately but in the end gets the upper hand because she doesn’t care what people think.  Sheesh.  I won’t watch another “bad” anything unless someone comes up with a way to serialize Bad Santa, preferably on cable late at night.

The Bad Judge in question is played Kate Walsh, who admirably goes all in for writing that doesn’t deserve her.  The show occasionally has its moments, most of them in the courtroom where Walsh can evince some Judge Judy or Judge Joe type incredulity before smacking down the offender in question.

Bad Judge also misses the boat on its one onscreen relationship that has both depth and chemistry, that being Judge Rebecca’s relationship with her bailiff Tedward (Tone Bell).  If you made a buddy comedy out of these two characters, I’d watch it, especially with Walsh, but sadly this show ain’t that.

Bad Judge, Kate Walsh, Tone Bell

The show I’d rather be watching

Quick Takes

Remember The China Syndrome?  It was that movie in the ‘70s about an accident at a nuclear power plant that came out like a week before Three Mile Island.  On a smaller scale, but same idea, Survivor’s Remorse, the new show about a star athlete and his extended family, aired an episode this week that dealt with corporal punishment.  Now how’d they know what Adrian Peterson was gonna do?

Educational TV.  Things we learned from watching TV this week: 1) Leave the gun.  Leave the cannoli.  Take the money (Gotham); 2) The Thing, Iron Man, Cyclops, The Hulk and Mr. Fantastic all started out as names Stan Lee gave to his penis (The Colbert Report); 3) If puppets were affordable, everyone would have puppets (Late Night With Seth Meyers); 4) America isn’t just the world’s policeman, we’re the world’s Ferguson, MO policeman (Real Time With Bill Maher).

SPOILER ALERT:  It was inevitable that in Boardwalk Empire’s final season, some of the recurring characters would be killed off.   With just two episodes to go, we lost two of the most indelible in Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) and Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon),  Both of these actors were unforgettable on the show, and their loss serves as a reminder that we won’t have Boardwalk much longer.

Reality Check:  If you have any life experience with the world of live music, I can recommend Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways, a very well done look at the origins of American popular music in various cities.  The show has that HBO quality you can trust, blending interesting documentary style storytelling with just plain good music.

Want to get a jump on the hot Halloween costume of 2014?  I’m guessing Twisty The Clown from American Horror Story Freak Show will get you more than a passing glance at your next Halloween party.  P.S., have fun trying to fall asleep tonight!

American Horror Story Freak Show, Twisty The Clown

No need to check under your bed – there’s no way I’m hiding there

Looking Ahead

The 25th annual Treehouse Of Horror episode of The Simpsons will air on Fox on October 19.

American Dad moves to TBS and airs its season premiere on October 20.

The Millers return to CBS on October 20.

The World Series begins on October 21 on Fox.

The 100 is back on The CW on October 22.

Web Therapy airs its season premiere on October 22 on Showtime.

Constantine debuts on NBC on October 24.

Newsreaders is back on Adult Swim on October 24.

Grimm returns on October 24 on NBC.

TV’s a big place and I haven’t been to all of it yet.  Got a favorite show you’d like me to comment on?  Post a comment below, contact me on twitter @RobLazlo. or shoot me an
email:  I welcome your input!
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