A year ago Nine had a breakout hit with The Case Of: JonBenét Ramsey, re-opening the infamous murder of the 1996 child pageant queen.
While the case had no conceivable link to Australia, viewers were hooked on the series because it cleverly sought to analyse evidence with astute storytelling. TEN also screened the acclaimed miniseries The People vs OJ Simpson, albeit without the same success.
Nine is now hoping prolific producer Dick Wolf can draw us in with Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders, dramatising the 1989 murder of their parents and the profile trial that ensued. It’s already been the subject of documentaries, two telemovies and the basis of a Law & Order episode in 1990.
In this 8 part saga a heavily wigged Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie, The Sopranos, Fargo) plays defense attorney Leslie Abramson, who represented the wealthy Menendez brothers Lyle (Miles Gaston Villanueva) and Erik (Gus Halper).
The NBC-produced series opens with the bloody murder of Jose and Kitty Menendez in the family living room and a 911 call. Investigating the crime scene are Detective Les Zoeller (Sam Jaeger) and Detective Tom Linehan (Cliff Chamberlain). The mansion has luxury furniture, a warchest of sporting trophies, The 10 Commandments playing on TV and blood-spattered corpses.
Police interviews with Lyle show him to be confident and measured, revealing his father had business enemies. But younger brother Erik is distraught. Subsequent odd behaviour, such as wanting to play tennis, will mark them as suspects by police.
In the opening episode Leslie Abramson watches from afar, via news reports, but seems convinced the brothers are guilty. Scenes by writer producer Rene Balcer (Law and Order) will also show them spending up on Armani suits, gold watches ahead of the funeral, all with Lyle leading his younger brother along.
Supporting players include extended family members and family doctor Jerome Oziel (Josh Charles). As a Law & Order brand it includes the trademark “dun dun” chime (you know the one), selectively used.
But while I was half expecting Det. Benson to come striding into scene, the writing is no improvement on Law & Order. There are flashback scenes of the Menendez family which would be better suited to a Hallmark telemovie. Whilst Edie Falco will doubtless rise to the occasion (despite that distracting ’90s wig) the direction slips into melodrama and I found myself wondering what this was adding to a tale that has been heavily mined by television already.
It’s diverting enough I guess, but at 8 episodes this will have to step things up pretty quickly.
Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders premieres 8:50pm tonight on Nine.