"Like a good detective" : Generic Hybridity on ABC's How to Get Away with Murder

Curator's Note

How to Get Away with Murder (ABC, 2014 - ) details the exploits of law professor and defense attorney Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) and her students, who also assist her in her legal work. Because of its focus on the teaching and practicing of law, one might assume the series only exemplifies the so-called “lawyer genre” on U.S. television (Asimow 1). However, through its storylines and characters, How to Get Away with Murder also includes elements of other genres. One of these genres is the detective genre. Annalise’s cases require her to solve different mysteries, with the help of her students and associates. Thus, How to Get Away with Murder is a contemporary example of a television show that features the hybridity of the lawyer and detective genres. As a defense attorney, Annalise must represent clients on various criminal charges, most often murder. Her representation of a client requires Annalise to investigate the crime and unravel any mysteries pertaining to it, such as the identity of the culprit(s). To solve these crimes, Annalise relies on her students and associates to do the investigative “leg-work.” She informs these individuals of the specific information she wants them to gather for her. Annalise also sometimes outlines the particular ways she wants her students/associates to gather this data. These people follow her instructions and through their investigative work, uncover information that helps Annalise deduce the truth about the crime. Her unraveling of this mystery consequently allows Annalise to win her court case. In a manner reminiscent of Perry Mason, Annalise will often use the information her investigators uncover to discredit trial witnesses during cross-examination. Sometimes, also like Mason, Annalise will even accuse the witness themselves of committing the crime, as she does in the accompanying scene. Thus, How to Get Away with Murder mirrors other lawyer-detective shows, like Perry Mason (CBS, 1957 – 1966) and Matlock (NBC, 1986-1992; ABC, 1992-1995), in which an attorney must act, to quote Annalise, “like a detective” to win their cases.

Works Cited Asimow, Michael. “Dramatic Lawyer Series: The Genre.” Lawyers in Your Living Room! Law on Television. Ed. Michael Asimow. Chicago: American Bar Association, 2009. 1-3. Print.

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