Roush Review: ‘Impeachment’ Is Mostly Monica’s Tripp-y Story
I keep hearing from people who lived through the Bill Clinton–Monica Lewinsky political sex scandal of the late 1990s that they have no desire to witness these tawdry events again, even under the august auspices of FX’s acclaimed American Crime Story franchise. Weren’t the Saturday Night Live parodies enough? And after living through the last administration with its climactic insurrection, why relive this particular Impeachment story now?
And yet, as with Crime Story’s previous Emmy-winning installments (on the O.J. Simpson trial and the murder spree of Gianni Versace’s killer), Impeachment lands with enough seriousness of purpose and with such a high degree of execution in the acting and writing that it aims a notch above tabloid-trash sensationalism. By telling this too-familiar story from the perspective of the women caught up in the political and media machinery, especially that of Lewinsky (whose widely publicized role as producer and consultant on the project could justifiably lead one to wonder about its objectivity), this luridly gripping limited series gains new relevance in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
True, the distracting prosthetics transforming such fine actors as Sarah Paulson into a Frankenstein version of the villainous Linda Tripp, Annaleigh Ashford as poignantly out-of-her-depth Paula Jones (whose sexual harassment lawsuit led investigators to Lewinsky) and a pitch-perfect though unrecognizable Clive Owen as President Clinton carry the whiff of an all-star reenactment stunt. But as the naive, lovestruck and, yes, entitled Lewinsky, Beanie Feldstein gives a heartbreaking and revelatory performance that makes Impeachment a riveting indictment of everyone on all sides of this, shall we say, affair.
By the time Monica learns that her supposed friend Linda, a narcissistic and grudge-prone ogre bristling with unearned self-importance, taped their phone conversations about her one-sided romance with POTUS, the levels of betrayal and political manipulation go off the charts. The sixth episode, depicting Monica’s ordeal when she is ambushed by FBI goons and held in a Pentagon City hotel room, is a TV-movie unto itself.
The casting is impeccable throughout, in a cheesy look-who’s-playing-who way, with standouts including the formidable Margo Martindale as Lucianne Goldberg, the cunning and cynical literary agent who gave Tripp the idea of taping Monica; Judith Light customarily spot-on as conservative activist Susan Carpenter-McMillan, who takes the vulnerable Paula Jones under her manipulative wing; Cobie Smulders as a gloating Ann Coulter; and Billy Eichner as gossipy early-Internet pot-stirrer Matt Drudge, who shreds all the old-school journalistic rules in breaking that year’s Scandal of the Century. (Because Edie Falco as Hillary Clinton is barely if ever seen in all but one of the episodes available for review, let’s just assume she nails it as she always does.)
Bottom line: I wasn’t crazy about watching this, either, but I am not sorry I did.
Impeachment: American Crime Story, Limited Series Premiere, Tuesday, September 7, 10/9c, FX