Magazine article Variety

Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders

Magazine article Variety

Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders

Article excerpt

Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders

TV REVIEW

Limited series: 8 episodes (2 reviewed); NBC, Tues. Sept. 26, 10 p.m.

Starring: Miles Gaston Villanueva, Gus Halper

The first time "Law & Order" creator and executive producer Dick Wolf attempted to tell the story of the Menendez brothers, it was in the first-season episode "The Serpent's Tooth," which aired in 1991. In the episode, squash aficionados Greg (Stephen Mailer) and Nick (Matt Hofherr) Jarmon are held on suspicion of murdering their parents after the two are shot point blank with one of the family's shotguns. The details were sanded off, but the voyeuristic rush of peering into a scandal remained.

As is the case with many such "Law & Order" episodes, the central moral quandary didn't need to be solved because of a third act twist. In real life, Lyle and Erik Menendez confessed to the murders, alleged physical and sexual abuse at the hands of both parents and were sent to prison without the possibility of parole. In "The Serpent's Tooth," another lead emerges, a suspect who ultimately exonerates the sons. It's a neater, nicer story.

With "Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders," Wolf's expansive franchise takes its favorite marketing phrase and, for once, tries to follow through to the complicated finish. But the moral quandary cannot be pirouetted away from: The stubborn facts of the case must be reckoned with. The ambiguity in the story of Eric and Lyle Menendez is not whether they did it, but rather if the alleged abuse mitigates that crime or, more practically, their sentence. Wolf has declared his own bias, and it's one that feels familiar from watching years of his shows, where victims using extra- -> «- judicial means to settle their scores are tacitly offered sympathy. Based on remarks he made at the Television Critics Assn. press tour and elsewhere, Wolf seems less concerned with the justice system's harsh sentencing than with the particulars of this case. The result has a way of obliquely demonstrating what made "The People v O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story" so brilliant: It wasn't the wigs or the self-seriousness, which "The Menendez Murders" has in spades; it was the relentless contextualizing. "Menendez" offers a little, but not enough. Still, it draws the viewer into its gambit.

Of the two episodes presented to critics, the first is markedly better: The scene is set in 1989 Beverly Hills, with tactics that use both the style of "Law & Order" and more sophisticated approaches. …

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