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TV Review: Lackluster “Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders”

Martha Trydahl Martha Trydahl TV Review: Lackluster “Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders”LAW & ORDER TRUE CRIME: THE MENENDEZ MURDERS -- Episode 101 -- Pictured: (l-r) Miles Gaston Villanueva as Lyle Menendez, Gus Halper as Eric Menendez -- (Photo by Justin Lubin/NBC)
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On the heels of The People v. O.J. Simpson’s success, NBC is attempting to throw their hat into the ring with the exceptionally long-titled, Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders.

Unfortunately, in this new “historical true crime” genre, The Menendez Murders pales in comparison. First of all, the Menendez case lacks much of the lingering public interest that the O.J. Simpson trial has. Second, The Menendez Murders feels cheap and thrown together. It is drowning in sea of bad wigs and lame writing.

The series is stretched out to the max at eight hour-long episodes, then crammed into the Law & Order template. It just doesn’t work. Especially for the loyal Law & Order audience, which is accustomed to a case wrapping up within the hour. The only familiarity is the dingy jail scenes which seem to be lit only by the glow of a cell phone, and the inconsistent “dun dun” sound.

After opening with a gory, black and white reenactment of the murder of Jose and Kitty Menendez, the show then bounces around to show how sons Lyle (Miles Gaston Villanueva) and Erik (Gus Halper) behave after the murders, as well as how the detectives and lawyers build their case.

Unfortunately, the show jumps around too much, especially in the first two episodes. Scenes cut away before the audience has a chance to reorient themselves. As a result, important aspects of the case such as media coverage of the trial, the ruling on privacy laws, etc. are not covered well at all.

So far, The Menendez Murders has spent a heavy majority of time on the “law,” with hardly a glance at the “order” side of the story. Detectives Zoeller (Sam Jaeger) and Linehan (Cliff Chamberlain) are paralyzed by the script. They are devoid of any personality, and their inability to move the case forward is inexcusable.

In fact, the Menendez friends and family members are typically interviewed by the lawyers, not the detectives. The only person that did go to the police is the ridiculous Judalon Smyth (Heather Graham). As the mistress to slimy therapist Dr. Jerome Oziel (Josh Charles), Graham manages to ruin just about every scene she’s in, but she’s only in a few episodes, gratefully.

Another poor casting choice was Elizabeth Reaser as lawyer Pam Bozanich. Her blank stares and blah performance aren’t doing the show any favors.

The only character with any redeeming qualities and a well-established personality is Leslie Abramson (Edie Falco). Abramson is written to be nearly angelic among a hoard of despicable characters. Her only vice seems to be that she cares too much.

The clear star of the show, Falco’s spunky portrayal of Abramson breathes life into this series. Villanueva and Halper’s portrayals of the Menendez brothers also give the show a leg to stand on.

What the series lacks in coverage of the case, if fills with repetitive characterizations: Erik is a blubbering, emotional mess; Lyle is the vain, stoic older brother; Leslie Abramson is the mother hen.

Halfway through the series, we are now diving into the brothers’ confessions of parental abuse. It’s extremely painful to listen to the details, not to mention watch the shadowy reenactments. But now Abramson must figure out how to prove the abuse occurred.

But we know how this case ends, and with such lackluster storytelling, who cares what happens in the next four episodes?

Grade: C

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