Impeachment: American Crime Story
Sarah Paulson, unrecognisable as White House staffer Linda Tripp, is the real reason to watch the affair between Clinton & Lewinsky.
Impeachment is the third instalment of Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story anthology (not to be confused with that unrelated anthology American Crime).
It’s been 3 years since The Assassination of Gianni Versace and 5 since The People v. O. J. Simpson -both of which were rather fabulous.
In the tradition of true anthology there are three returning actors for this 10 part dramatisation of the clandestine affair between President Bill Clinton and intern Monica Lewinsky.
Murphy-darling Sarah Paulson is back -and completely unrecognisable- as White House staffer Linda Tripp. So significant is her role that she’s arguably the lead of this story, a malevolent puppet-master behind the scenes. While the series opens with a pivotal scene between Tripp and Lewinsky, it soon flashes back to 1993 when she is elbowed out of her coveted West Wing position to a desk job at the Pentagon. It does not go down well…
“I will get you for this,” she warns one colleague.
Monica Lewinsky (who is also a series producer) is portrayed by Beanie Feldstein, who has appeared in the films Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, Lady Bird and Booksmart. She is wide-eyed, personable but forlorn. Stray glances from President Clinton (Clive Owen) lead to subtle exchanges, initially in front of other staff, before the pair steal moments alone.
Meanwhile former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones (returning cast member Annaleigh Ashford) is going public with her claims of sexual harassment by Clinton, at the behest of her infuriated Southern husband (Taran Killam). Cue the lawyers and journos….
While the stolen moments in corridors and backrooms between Clinton and Lewinsky are interesting it’s the resolve by Linda Tripp, upon discovering the affair, that drives Impeachment‘s better scenes. From behind her thick wig, glasses, prosthetic nose (this show has a few) and padded costume, Paulson allows Tripp to stew and fester. It’s as if one of her American Horror Story characters is about to burst forth.
Perhaps it is due to the set-up elements of the story, but the pacing is somewhat uneven, including around Lewinsky and Jones narratives and associated players. I was waiting for Hillary Clinton (Edie Falco) to spark things up, but she was a merely a cameo in the first two episodes. The timeline is also non-linear, which made it tricky to stay on top of where Clinton sat within his two terms.
Also featuring are (returning cast member) Judith Light as legal adviser Susan Carpenter-McMillan, Margo Martindale as powerful author Lucianne Goldberg and roles by Kathleen Turner, Blair Underwood, Cobie Smulders, Colin Hanks, Mira Sorvino and Billy Eichner.
I’m not wholly convinced this is worthy of a 10 episode dramatisation, but time will tell. Its success lays more with its female leads than Presidential behaviour, which has been dissected many times in the media. Pitting Tripp against Lewinsky in a tenuous friendship / rivalry is the driving force.
As Monica says of Linda in the opening scene, “I want that treacherous bitch to see what she’s done to me.”
Impeachment: American Crime Story screens 9pm Wednesday on FOX One and Binge.