Last season, Shonda Rhimes’s most recent runaway hit, ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder, left its TV audience reeling when it was revealed that Connor’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, Oliver, was diagnosed with HIV. It was the twist that many fans didn’t see coming since Connor was the ultimate bad boy while nerdy-cute Oliver was the commitment type. It was shocking. It was refreshing. And it was the first time in a long time that the topic of HIV has been discussed on primetime television.
Some thought that the good boy/bad boy switch up was as cliché as an after school special. In an article for Buzzfeed, journalist Louis Peitzman said the “HIV storyline was a step back for the usually progressive ‘How To Get Away With Murder,” whereas many others (including HIV awareness advocates) praised Rhimes and the show for introducing content that has been sorely missed by today’s youth culture. (Plus even ran an interview with Conrad Ricamora, who plays Oliver, asking "Is Television Finally Ready for HIV-Positive Characters?")
But fans and critics alike tuned in for last night’s premiere to see what lies ahead for Connor and Oliver. And as the storyline played out, the social media stratosphere was set ablaze. The discussion of PrEP had officially gone mainstream.
The season opener, written by Peter Nowalk, had skirted the after-school vibe of HIV messaging, and instead showed Connor and Oliver moving forward with their relationship. Connor, who was profoundly underdeveloped in the first season as the slutty, shameless gay character, shows depth and feeling in his interactions with Oliver. The two discuss sex and HIV in a way that many, if not most of HTGAWM’s audience surely have never seen before.
Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, an opinion writer for avclub.com, had this to say:
"Oliver and Connor continue to be adorable together, and their discussions here about HIV and PrEP feel a lot more real and nuanced than in the first season. This episode really isn’t playing around when it comes to smart writing about topics not typically brought up on network television."
Many AIDS service organizations and PrEP activists chimed in to champion this bold move by the TV series.
Eric McCulley, a PrEP advocate and moderator of the popular Facebook group, PrEP Facts, championed the episode.
“To my knowledge, it's the first time PrEP has ever been seriously mentioned on network primetime television. That's a big megaphone for a serious sexual health topic.”
The topic of PrEP and the presence of an HIV-positive character was most recently seen on HBO’s Looking, but the TV show was recently cancelled after the second season.