Is it too late to turn “How to Get Away With Murder” into a limited series, one of those shows that hits the reset button – while keeping star Viola Davis – in each new season? Because the ABC drama’s frenetic second-season finale — which circled all the way back to the show’s beginnings, while ending (predictably) with yet another murder — makes a pretty strong case for it.
Not only did the finale work in the aforementioned flourishes (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched), but it found time to have Davis’ character, powerhouse attorney Annalise Keating, take refuge from the craziness by visiting her family in Memphis. Although that provided some helpful background about the character – and offered the great Cicely Tyson an extended guest shot as her mother – it resulted in an extremely hurried finish, as Annalise magically returned and resolved this season’s year-long murder mystery, before the unfortunate Wes (Alfred Enoch) happened to find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time yet again. (And incidentally, what a waste of Adam Arkin, literally and figuratively.)
“Murder” made a name for itself initially with plenty of “OMG” twists for which the Shondaland dramas are known, built around the question of who murdered Annalise’s philandering husband, Sam (Tom Verica, who lives on thanks to flashbacks). It also subjected her crop of insanely ambitious students to a series of increasingly perilous encounters, as they balanced their burning desire to win her approval against the crimes and cover-ups with which they were associated.
By now, however, the cascading crises have all become more than a little ridiculous — lurching from juicy to messy, from complex to convoluted. And while the writers deserve credit for cleverly tying Wes’ tragic youth back into the whole plot via protracted flashback sequences, the sexual liaisons – including Wes’ flirtation with Laurel (Karla Souza) and lusty encounters between Michaela (Aja Naomi King) and Asher (Matt Mcgorry) – have begun to feel mostly like the writers are simply exhausting the lineup of possible combinations.
Give the series bonus points for managing to maintain its continuity throughout this time-twisting season, what with all those hairstyling issues to ponder between now and “10 years ago.” Yet it’s hard to escape a nagging sense that the concept wasn’t built to last years on end, with the practical solution being to close out this story and introduce a new group of students, with fresh young minds to poison and souls to corrupt.
That at least would bring freshness to a show that has somewhat prematurely headed into the downward part of its life cycle ratings-wise. Based on Nielsen data, “Murder” has declined nearly 20% compared to first-quarter 2015 in both overall viewing and the key 18-49 demographic, weighted down in part, to be fair, by lead-in “Scandal’s” even steeper decline.
Thanks to the show’s first-season success, those numbers don’t necessarily require hitting the panic button, and there are still elements here to like. Davis’ Emmy-winning role wasn’t a fluke. It’s just that it increasingly feels like the series boasts a sensational performance by a world-class actress — playing a wonderfully complicated character — in what’s otherwise a pretty mundane vehicle.
Granted, as crimes against TV go, that would fall under the heading of a misdemeanor at best. But if the network and producers really want to continue “Getting Away With Murder,” they might think about getting away, sooner rather than later, from the current story, which, for all its “OMG” moments, is generating a few too many apt to make one think “Gimme a break.”