Dear How To Get Away With Murder,
I encountered the first season of you about a year ago and I was hooked from the very start. I love Viola Davis – she is such a good actress and I feel like this is the role of a lifetime for her… for now at least.
What struck me the most was the unconventional storytelling. The first half of each season is divided into two timelines, present and future, until they collide spectacularly and from that point on, they march forward with even more power – no matter who or what is in the way. Additional flashbacks tell us more about specific characters and add to the mystery and intrigue. But it’s not just this kind of storytelling which brings me to the edge of my seat.
It’s the cast and characters that you present to us and more specifically, the diversity within them. I didn’t do any research on that matter or count any of the individual characters, but it seems to me that a high percentage of the characters are women. This is amazing and I wish more shows (and movies, I am looking at you Hollywood!) would have the courage to do something like that. But you don’t stop there, because there is a significant amount of black characters, gay characters, Asian characters, Latino characters, and so on and so forth. I appreciate this kind of diversity. It doesn’t feel like a whitewashed crappy vision of some old white dude, but it feels like real life. It’s sad that such a variety of characters is something we wind up being grateful for, but it doesn’t happen very often and when it happens we have to celebrate it. So thank you for that!
As a gay man, I don’t really feel represented in a lot of TV shows (or movies, I’m looking at you again, Hollywood!) and to see not just one (stereotypical) gay character is awesome. As Carolyn Cocca wrote in her book “Superwomen”, if you just have one woman or one gay character in your medium, this person has the impossible task (or better challenge) to represent all women or all gay people. With you, HTGAWM, this is not the case, you give us all kinds of individuals and I can’t thank you enough for that. Representation is something, I really didn’t think about for the most part of my life. But since I startet excessively reading comics (about nine years ago), listening to podcasts and followed the conversation about representation, I began to look at media in a new light. Subconsciously there was always this feeling of being alone or to lack a certain connection to my friends and family. But now that I am more aware of this and since I have the confidence to talk about my sexuality with everyone who wants to listen (and sometimes talk to those who wouldn’t) I embrace everything with diversity. Fans are awesome creatures. You can find lists about comics with gay characters, transgender character, lists about movies, TV shows and so on. Therefore it’s really easy to find those stories you really want to read. With characters like ourselves.
So far though, we didn’t get any disabled characters from HTGAWM. Maybe as a client or something like that, but not as a main, featured character. And finally, the characters in the show doesn’t really seem to have money problems, at all. They are students. Law students. I know that most of them come from rich, privileged families, but not all of them. It is strange that money seems never to be an issue. But that’s a nitpick and I am glad for what we get and what we get is simply amazing.
But despite all the diversity you present us with, your characters are not really role models, are they? They are pretty much all bad people (at least 85% of them are murderers) so this evens things out – at least in my opinion. Everyone has to go through some drama… or a lot of drama to be more specific. And each time it feels the logical step for the person and not just like another obstacle they have to overcome. This kind of realism is mostly based on the amazing actors and actresses. They deliver every scene so perfectly, I never know whom to trust. Even if a character introduces his family to his girlfriend, I feel like that there is something fishy about it and the whole thing is a set up. Good work!
In addition to the suspenseful storylines, you seem to talk about the meta things as well: for example at the beginning of Season Two, Annalise addresses the whiteness and the privileges of a certain character. I think that happens more and more as the show progresses, which is a really good thing and acts as a reminder to the small part of the audience who just doesn’t get the clues. You get your viewers to ask questions about themselves. How things are and how they could or should be.
There is one last thing I want to talk about. I recently read an article about strong, ambitious female characters on TV (Link). Basically the article claims, that most of ambitious women on TV have to apologize for there unlikeability by having some kind of psychological condition. I didn’t watch most of the TV shows cited in the essay, but I disagree with Angelica Jade Bastién about some things she says about HTGAWM. In the first season Annalise is introduced as a strong, relentless teacher and lawyer. She owns the room. The author writes:
“At one point in the second season, her mentality is so fractured, thanks to being shot by one of her protegees and prescription drugs, that she starts hallucinating babies. Making mental illness such a defining factor ruins the more radical, interesting option of making Annalise a female power fantasy, which she seemed to be earlier in the series. The way the writers use mental illness flattens her character and suggests that all ruthlessly ambitious women are secretly harboring deep traumas that prohibit them from inhabiting more traditional (and safe) feminine roles.”
I don’t really agree with that. As we see in the third season Annalise wants to give up, confess everything they did – just to get it over with. But she always finds strength within her at some point. She goes on, finds solutions and overcomes the obstacles. Isn’t that what we want from characters in general? Of course it’s very impressive to see her in the first season, without questioning herself or having doubts, but she lost a child, a husband, her students and employees kill on a daily basis, she gets beaten, thrown into jail and what not. If Annalise wouldn’t struggle with these things it wouldn’t be a relatable character. At least not in this context. In other TV shows with different angles this power fantasy, A.J. Bastién writes about, would work. Like in the Suicide Squad comics. I don’t want a Amanda Waller who doubts herself. She is a force of nature – she has to be. But this, for me, wouldn’t work for HTGAWM.
All the things I have talked about are different pieces of a bigger picture. Your bigger picture, HTGAWM. Thank you for all of it!
Best wishes and good luck,
PS: I literally made a fist-bump as I saw Famke Janssen appear in the second season. The chemistry between her and Viola Davis is unbelievable. I just started with season three and I hope to see her again soon – she is such a great actress!
PPS: The soundtrack. Goosebumps. Every f…ing time. Brilliant.