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There are few TV shows with as much history and episodes as NBC's Law & Order. Besides playing constantly on syndication, its spinoff Law and Order: SVU is still going strong at the peacock. In an attempt to cash in one the recent popularity of true crime podcasts and documentaries, another spinoff is being produced by the network: Law & Order True Crime. This new series' first season will focus on the infamous Menendez brother murders from 1989. This scandal was one of the most high-profile court cases of the 80s and 90s, second only to the O.J. Simpson trial. And now the harrowing tale is once again being adapted, this time in a eight episode season of television.
Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders was created by Law & Order and Chicago series creator and producer Dick Wolf. The series opens after the murder of Kitty and Jose Menendez, although very little of the actual events shown on camera. We see as Beverly Hills detective Les Zoeller (Parenthood and When We Rise actor Sam Jaeger) begins to investigate the crime scene, with the titular Menendez Brothers are interrogated by other officers at the station. What follows is a somewhat long retelling of the early stages of the investigation, with each episode revealing more information about the infamous murder.
The new Law & Order spinoff boasts an extremely impressive cast of television stars, which will no doubt keep some TV fans going when pacing issues arrive. Lyle and Erik Menendez are played by newcomers Miles Gaston Villanueva and Gus Halper respectively. The big name in the main cast is The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie star Edie Falco, who plays the Menendez' defense attorney Leslie Abramson. True Blood star Chris Bauer and film actress Heather Graham (The Hangover) also have supporting roles, and the cast is rounded out by Elizabeth Reaser (Twilight) and Julianne Nicholson (Law & Order: Criminal Intent).
The cast is no doubt Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders' strongest suit. With so many names are attached, there are a handful of strong performances. Of course, Edie Falco is extremely captivating in all of her scenes, which should only get more juicy as the story continues on. Sam Jaeger's Detective Zoeller is a major presence in the first handful of episodes, as the evidence begin pointing to the Menendez brothers as the killers. It's no surprise that the network continues to cast Jaeger, as he's equal parts charming and handsome in each of his appearances at the peacock. Out of the two titular brothers, Gus Halper's Erik Menendez gets to have a meatier role, as Erik's remorse drives the story and their internal conflict forward.
While the new Law & Order miniseries aims to compete with FX's The People v. O. J. Simpson, it's not nearly as thrilling. The action moves rather sluggishly, especially as the pilot episode attempts to introduce the myriad characters that will come and go as the case unfolds. The horror of the actual murders are only briefly shown, so the shock of the sons' crimes fails to entice the audience. Unfortunately, it also fails to really get to the heart of the Menendez family's strife-- both of which are perhaps the most enthralling aspects of the story.
Lyle and Erik were physically, verbally, and sexually abused by their father throughout their childhood. Furthermore, it's believed that their mother Kitty was complicit, as she struggled with her own emotional and substance issues. The details of the case shocked those following the trials, and shone a light on how domestic abuse occurs even in the wealthiest of families. Unfortunately, The Menendez Murders doesn't really focus on this from the jump, instead attempting to do some world building. But since the miniseries will only be eight episodes long, there's not really time to waste.
Law & Order fans will still no doubt appreciate the tried and true franchise as it producing new episodes. The infamous Law & Order "bum bum" even makes appearances occasionally, as settings change. But The Menendez Murders is experimenting with serialized storytelling, abandoning the procedural format that the property usually utilizes. This is likely an opportunity to bring a new audience into the genre, as plot driven anthology series like FX's American Horror Story are massively popular.
But this change in format may explain why Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders feels like such a disjointed experience. The new show doesn't seem to know what it is, and therefore fails to really draw you in. And considering that the subject matter is a well-known and scandalous double murder, it shouldn't really be that hard. Perhaps as the show moves deeper into its narrative, the action will ramp up a bit. Regardless, it'll likely feature strong performances.
Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders airs Tuesdays 10pm EST on NBC.