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NBC Premieres 'Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders
September 26, 2017  | By David Hinckley

Recounting sensational real-life crimes used to be a regular menu item for budget-conscious cable channels.

Now, ever since FX got killer ratings for its dramatization of the O.J. Simpson case, the game has drawn bigger names and bigger budgets, the latest of which is NBC’s Law & Order True Crime Story: The Menendez Brothers.

This closed-end eight-part series, which debuts Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET, is projected as the first in a crime anthology series.

The creepy Menendez brothers, Erik and Lyle, were convicted for the brutal 1989 shotgun murders of their rich parents, Jose and Kitty.

Erik, played by Gus Halper (top), is alternately portrayed here as a cool character and a psychological wreck. Lyle, played by Miles Gaston Villanueva (top), seems calmer. Yes, perhaps too calm.

That would never describe their attorney, Leslie Abramson, played by Edie Falco (right) in a striking blond Annie wig.

It’s not because of her hair, though, that Falco’s Abramson steals virtually every scene in which she appears.

Here as in the real-life media profiles during the trial, Abramson comes off as a bulldog, a kid outta Queens whose style sometimes clashes with the legal world in L.A.  

When we meet her, she has just successfully defended another wealthy youth accused of killing a parent. Soon thereafter she glances at the TV during the first reports of the Menendez murders, sees a shot of Lyle and Erik walking somewhere and says, “They did it.”

And so the wheels of justice, or perhaps the wheels of fire, begin rolling down the road.

As the title suggests, this True Crime series becomes the latest member of NBC’s existing Law & Order family.

It’s such a smooth fit that NBC is probably wondering why the network or L&O creator Dick Wolf didn’t think of the idea years ago.

In a sense, he did, of course, since so many Law & Order cases are, as they say, ripped from the headlines. This new series doesn’t even require changing a few names and facts.

Viewers will recognize a number of players in the cast. Anthony Edwards plays Judge Stanley Weisberg, who presided over the trial. Julianne Nicholson plays Abramson’s assistant Jill Lansing, and Josh Charles plays Dr. Jerome Oziel, Erik’s and Lyle’s shrink.

Dr. Oziel has more than a few problems himself, as does almost everyone connected with this case, and that includes the victims. Jose Menendez is portrayed as controlling to the point of psychosis, and Kitty Menendez suffers from severe depression. We don’t have much trouble intuiting at least one of the reasons.

In keeping with L&O’s logical habit of first showing the investigation, Sam Jaeger (right) plays lead detective Les Zoeller.

He’s suspicious of everyone, because he’s a detective, and he’s especially suspicious of the brothers. Particularly when they return to the house immediately after they learn their parents were killed and tell Zoeller they need to go inside and pick up their tennis equipment because there’s a match to play.

Now that’s athletic dedication.

As the show rolls on, there are issues about Jose’s missing will, the one in which he had said he intended to disinherit both brothers because they were irresponsible. There are discrepancies in stories. Motives emerge. Courtroom dramas explode.

It’s not possible to spoil the ending, of course, because we already know the verdict. But here, as with the O.J. series, we’re watching for the journey.  

The show is filmed with the familiar L&O framework: short, punchy scenes followed by two seconds of music and an on-screen embed telling us we’re now somewhere else.

There aren’t a lot of heroes in True Crime: The Menendez Brothers. NBC and Wolf are betting viewers will settle for what most real-life Americans, a quarter century ago, considered justice.

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