Impeachment: American Crime Story Review: An Engrossing Look at the Lewinsky Scandal - VRGyani News and Media

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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Impeachment: American Crime Story Review: An Engrossing Look at the Lewinsky Scandal

The most important thing to know about Impeachment: American Crime Story is that at its core, this is not a story about Bill Clinton. He's involved, to be sure, with Clive Owen stepping up to embody the 42nd American president (who was only the second to be impeached). But this third installment in the Ryan Murphy-produced anthology series is really the story of two real-life women, whose office friendship led to a singular moment in our history. And one of them is an executive producer.

The fact that Monica Lewinsky was actively involved in consulting on Impeachment's depiction of the events which made her a household name (in the worst possible way) is the second-most important thing to know about this show. That said, for years and years Lewinsky was a national punchline and punching bag — it does somehow feel just for her to, in this way, tell her side of the story.

Like other Crime Story seasons, Impeachment jumps between time periods to some degree while laying out the players in showrunner Sarah Burgess's retelling of events. But the action is centered around what happens when civil servant Linda Tripp (Sarah Paulson) is transferred from the White House to the Pentagon after the death by suicide of her boss Vince Foster. There, Linda meets another fellow exile, though her new friend Monica (Beanie Feldstein) thinks she has a real shot at returning to work at the White House. After all, she's got a very influential boyfriend in the administration.

Linda doesn't find out Monica's secret — that she's been having "sexual relations" with President Bill Clinton — right away, but once she does, she's torn between her friendship with Monica and her ambition... well, no. Her ambition wins, pretty easily. And once a hotel desk clerk named Paula Jones (Annaleigh Ashford) files a lawsuit against Clinton for sexual harassment, the stage is set for Monica's story to become national news, much to the delight of the anti-Clinton advocates who were just waiting for an opportunity like this.

It's not necessary to go that much deeper into the plot of Impeachment for the purposes of this review, except to say that how you end up feeling about the show will probably have a lot to do with how much you remember about the scandal; as with most stories based on recent events, there's a generational aspect to the baggage most of us bring with us to this story. It's near impossible to write about the show as a narrative separate from its historical context; so much of what led to the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 was instrumental in creating the state of the nation as we know it today. It's something that Impeachment feels aware of, the heft of what might seem like ordinary events, though at this point it feels hard to say how successful the show is at communicating this concept.

The quality of the production is in line with past American Crime Story seasons — which is to say, all the below-the-line elements are extremely on point, with special points for capturing the bland bureaucratic vibe of what might seem to be glamorous locations. Cast-wise, it's a deep bench down to the most minor of supporting players (Colin Hanks as an FBI agent! Jim Rash as a Pentagon official! Taran Killem as Paula Jones' husband!), with Feldstein standing out for the way she makes Monica feel believable and real and oh so painfully young — yet old enough to eventually figure out.

RELATED: New ‘Impeachment: American Crime Story’ Trailer Goes Deeper Into the Scandal That Shook the White House

Meanwhile, of all the aspects of this show that may prove to be polarizing, Paulson's performance as Linda Tripp is probably top of the list. In the 1990s, she was the scandal's clear villain, the one who betrayed her friend by recording their conversations and revealing the affair between Monica and Clinton to all the wrong people. And even with the benefit of hindsight, it's hard to ignore how Impeachment can't escape delivering the same treatment.

The show centers so many details about Linda's life that seek to make her relatable — an annoying cubicle-mate, insecurities over her appearance, frustration over being sidelined professionally with seemingly no cause — and they do the hard work of helping us understand exactly why she would betray her friend in this way. Does that make her any more of a sympathetic figure? Not really.

But at least she's granted some degree of nuance, while the same cannot be said of the players working to use these women to hurt Clinton; not that Ann Coulter was ever anything resembling a subtle public figure, but as portrayed by Cobie Smulders she's pure caricature. Smulders, in appearance as well as voice, is pretty dead-on accurate, but you can almost feel the show resisting the temptation to give her a mustache, for the purposes of twirling it. And other key figures of the "vast right-wing conspiracy" — real-life Hillary Clinton's words — are equally cartoonish. (That said, while what Billy Eichner does with the role of unscrupulous online "journalist" Matt Drudge cannot be described as subtle, there's something darkly addictive about the layers he brings to Drudge's involvement in the scandal.)

A great deal of Impeachment proves to be truly engrossing, as all the semi-familiar pieces of the puzzle come together, but at this point (seven out of 10 episodes were available to critics for review), it's hard to say if it lives up to the previous two installments of American Crime Story. Part of The People v. O.J. Simpson's effectiveness was in how it made us reevaluate what happened during that trial through a modern lens, with a greater understanding of all the underreported factors that made the story into a tragedy for so many involved. It was a fascinating portrait of what we both did and didn't understand about that double murder in Brentwood.

In the case of Impeachment, without seeing the full conclusion, it's hard to gauge how successful, overall, the series might be at achieving a similar goal. It does, however, operate at its best when focused on just how fucked over Monica was by everything that took place. Core to Impeachment is what it says about manipulation — how nearly everyone involved in this event was the pawn of someone else, all in service to unsavory aspirations. Except, of course, Monica, a 23-year-old who made a few bad decisions and was torn apart as a result. How close Impeachment comes to capturing the full truth of what happened during this time is impossible to say for sure. But as for Monica's truth, well, here it is.

Impeachment: American Crime Story premieres Tuesday, September 7 on FX.

KEEP READING: 'Impeachment: American Crime Story': Cast and Character Guide to Ryan Murphy's Take on Bill Clinton



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