THere’s a wearily-informed unease with which one approaches something as precarious as Impeachment, the latest in Ryan Murphy’s brilliant American Crime Story franchise, exhaustive recreations of stories best known to the tabloid headlines that accompanied them. The broadest, supposedly serious, retelling of recent history, on the big and small screen, has quickly become a parody-level SNL parody, the distracting novelty of watching a big-name actor make too much of an impression. often overwhelming of anything more interesting exploratory. The how and why notoriously misunderstood or poorly remembered of what really happened are drowned out by prosthetics and outsized mimicry, as if heading to the library but ending up in the circus. It was one of the many reasons Vice and Bombshell failed to turn me on in recent years, the Oscarbait pantomime was ineffectively invented as something more vital.
With Impeachment, Murphy and his team return to a time that has served them well: the mid-1990s, an era that reaches a sweet spot for its older millennial fan base. It’s where they followed OJ’s trial in the first and better season and then the exploits of Gianni Versace’s killer in the slightly less cohesive second. This time around, there is no murderer to find or prosecute, but rather a strange and messy web of sex, corruption, ambition, and misogyny to unravel. We zoom in on the story of how Monica Lewinsky went from being a White House intern to a household name and ending, an ugly chapter that preceded chapters of related similar ugliness. While many Americans of a certain age may well remember the details of the story and how it went from an illicit affair to a public obsession, for most of us it is something we remember mostly through moments: the dress, the hug, the ” I didn’t have… ”speech. This sprawling 10-episode dramatization aims to fill in all the gaps and, at the same time, weave a line that leads us to where we are now and where we have been since Trump’s appearance and a more pronounced divide. in United States.
It’s an arduous task for a narrative series, one that aims to entertain rather than exhaust with information and in the seven episodes made available to critics, it is one that is skillfully, albeit imperfectly, resolved into a compulsively dramatic drama. observable that it avoids certain potholes while accelerating directly towards others. Ambitious White House intern Monica (Beanie Feldstein) watches her crush on President Bill Clinton (Clive Owen) turn into a secret affair, but instead of seeing it directly through his eyes, the series focuses in his notorious confidant Linda Tripp (Sarah Paulson). , a coworker who was offended by the government for not giving her the power and responsibility she believed she deserved. It’s a smart idea as Tripp is undoubtedly the most fascinating character in the sprawling scandal, and in turn Paulson also delivers the most fascinating performance, but one that is already proving divisive – a debate that is sure to continue for weeks to come.
Paulson herself has already come out before the premiere of the first episode to admit to regret about wearing a thick suit for the role, a cleverly forward-thinking PR move, if one that came too soon after production to look really genuine, given that Paulson herself was also a producer on the show. I would argue that the use of the fat suit is countered by some sensitive writing, a characterization that is all too aware of the grotesque ways in which Tripp and Lewinsky’s weight was lampooned at the time (a shockingly disgusting SNL parody with John Goodman is reproduced in a crushing scene at the end of the series). Tripp is a knobby figure, frequently enraged, and Paulson never got better – he works hard not to smooth out her jagged edges while avoiding turning her into a one-note villain. It’s a well-deserved reward for the actor in the increasingly deranged Murphyverse, a brief respite from his thankless procession of B-movie roles playing witches or goblins or witch-goblins or whatever. It is far more developed than the collection of studied tics it might have been, and as we go out to see the big picture, a more tragic vision emerges of someone who had previously been dismissed as a joke.
It’s a cleverly managed study of a difficult character that is more careful and thorough than the series itself, which is consistent, boldly entertaining but at times a bit repetitive and at other times a bit structurally messy. There is often an assumed quality to the narrative, at least in the initial episodes, as if we know the whole story and thus the writers indulge in some confusing shortcuts while the later episodes mingle with each other, recycled rhythms.
Paulson dominates, but there are other good performances around the edges as well, including an unarmed Annaleigh Ashford as Clinton’s accuser Paula Jones and a surprisingly flawless Cobie Smulders as a vicious Ann Coulter. His casting eludes the aforementioned SNL-ness of seeing something like Impeachment, most of the artists cast as actors rather than stars, disappearing rather than showing off. Owen’s Clinton is initially jarring, but settles on paper with ease, while Feldstein is a solid Lewinsky, especially outstanding in a grim episode dedicated to the horror of his vile treatment at the hands of the media. But his scenes fall apart compared to those involving Paulson’s Tripp – not bad exactly, but just a little beige.
Sometimes there is too much for the show to take on, especially one that tends to repeat itself, and it works best when the focus remains firm on Tripp, whose strange tribulations take hold even as the show around her fades. The biggest crime in the third season of American Crime Story is committed by Paulson, stealing all of our attention from Bill and Monica.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism