September 27, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders”


LAW & ORDER TRUE CRIME:  THE MENENDEZ MURDERS – Tuesday 10PM on NBC – Change the Channel

Dick Wolf is one of the most successful producers in the history of television, but the one thing he’s never been is cool.  His Law & Order and Chicago franchises have kept NBC on the map for decades, even during the leanest years, yet it was Ryan Murphy who walked away with critical acclaim and an armful of Emmys for The People vs. OJ Simpson, Murphy’s first foray into the crime genre.  That must have galled a man who, if he didn’t invent “ripped from the headlines” entertainment, certainly put his trademark on the form, and both he and NBC must have longed for some of those upscale viewers who turned People vs. OJ into a sensation.  And so we have Law & Order: True Crime, an anthology like Murphy’s American Crime Story, which premieres with 8 hours devoted to The Menendez Murders.

The crime at hand here, Lyle and Erik Menendez’s 1989 shotgun killings of their parents Jose and Kitty, shares a wealthy LA milieu with the OJ murders, but it wasn’t in a league with that scandal in terms of cultural and sociological resonance.  Even more problematically, Dick Wolf and his longtime colleague Rene Balcer, who gets “created by” credit and wrote the opening episode, are proceduralists at heart and not showmen.  In their hands, True Crime feels like the longest episode of Law & Order ever, mundane and plodding.

People vs OJ was instantly alive with vivid characterizations and incisive dialogue, while The Menendez Killings steps methodically from scene to scene.  The first hour details the process by which the LAPD became suspicious of the incredibly suspicious Lyle and Erik, as they discovered pieces of evidence like the draft of a will erased from the parents’ computer, and inconsistencies in the brothers’ statements.  All of this is no doubt well researched, but it has very little drama.  The show’s big-ticket casting was landing Edie Falco to play defense attorney Leslie Abramson, and perhaps Falco will take flight in later episodes once the trial gets started, but in the opening episode, she mainly stares at a TV and muses peceptively, noting that nothing rouses passions like family and the like.  It’s a sad waste of one of TV’s best.  Other star names are scattered throughout, including Anthony Edwards as a judge and Elizabeth Reaser as a prosecutor, but they have even less to do.  The one scene that tries to go beyond the just-the-facts approach has the Menendez’s psychiatrist (Josh Charles) in an affair with one of his patients (Heather Graham), and it’s tawdry in such a banal way that it feels embarrassed by itself.  Director Lesli Linka Glatter, whose flashier work includes projects like Homeland and The Leftovers, is unable to make this look like more than an episode of the defunct Law & Order: LA.

It never pays to bet against Dick Wolf, and True Crime will have a very strong lead-in from This Is Us, so it might be a hit for NBC.  But in terms of its larger ambitions of being considered among the Prestige TV elite, it mostly exposes the limitations of Wolf’s approach to his medium.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."