Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders Tuesdays, 10 p.m., NBC. Premieres September 26.
Thanks to the success of The People v. O.J. Simpson, the first installment in FX’s American Crime Story anthology series, along with the proliferation of popular documentary series like The Jinx and Making a Murderer, true crime is big business in TV right now, and NBC has decided to jump on the bandwagon with trusted brand name Law & Order. The clumsily titled Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders is the first installment of a planned anthology series in the same mold as American Crime Story, focusing on a different famous crime in each season.
But while producer Ryan Murphy brought his signature bold stylization to American Crime Story, True Crime is more like, well, a Law & Order series, complete with onscreen datelines in the familiar font and occasional use of the franchise’s signature chung-chung sound effect. Created by veteran L&O writer-producer Rene Balcer, the first edition of True Crime focuses on the murder case against brothers Lyle and Erik Menendez (Miles Gaston Villanueva and Gus Halper), who were accused of killing their wealthy parents in their Beverly Hills home in 1989. Although Edie Falco gets top billing as the brothers’ attorney Leslie Abramson, she doesn’t have a whole lot to do in the two episodes available for review, which mainly follow police as they build a case against the brothers.
Already depicted in two 1994 network-TV movies (CBS and Fox), a recent Lifetime movie and numerous newsmagazines, the Menendez case has little new material to explore over the course of eight episodes, and Balcer and his collaborators depict it in the simple, straightforward style familiar to viewers of decades of L&O episodes. The most successful shows of the current true-crime boom do more than just lay out the facts, but there isn’t much indication that True Crime will be more than a competently produced eight-part Law & Order episode.