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Law & Order: True Crime - The Menendez Murders - Advance Preview

All I needed to hear was Edie Falco and I was sold on this. From The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie to more recent turns in Louis C.K’S Horace & Pete and I Love You, Daddy, I’ve never seen a project where Falco didn't shine. To be honest, I’m not much of a Law & Order fan. I’ve seen the odd episode here and there, but I’ve never followed any iteration of the series faithfully. This is different, of course: rather than a full season of weekly cases, True Crime is an 8-episode mini-series that focuses on a real trial. In this case, it’s the murder of Jose and Mary ‘Kitty’ Menendez by their two sons, Erik and Lyle.

I went into this with little expectation. Unquestionably, it’s a series that hopes to ride the current wave of true crime fascination, from last years’ The People v O.J. Simpson and O.J.: Made in America to more recent hits like The Keepers. Regardless, it did what it had to do: it kept me entertained.

The first episode begins immediately with the murders, and soon we’re watching as the Menendez brothers start spending their parents’ wealth on Rolex watches and expensive suits. The series finds a solid balance between the procedural elements of Law & Order while also making the most of the freedom that comes along with having eight episodes to tell a story rather than just one. There’s effective character-building and enough side plots that allow the world to feel vast and real.

The cast here is stacked. There’s Sam Jaeger as the detective investigating the murders, Elizabeth Reaser as the Deputy District Attorney, Josh Charles as Erik’s psychologist, and Heather Graham as the psychologists’ unstable mistress.

Then, of course, there’s Edie Falco. Even in a formulaic series, she breaks the mold. Falco is electrifying as Leslie Abramson, even when she has little to work with. The first two episodes focus more on the brothers than anyone else, though we’ll certainly see more of Abramson as she takes Lyle and Erik on as their defense attorney. There were accusations that this project was little more than a vehicle for Falco (as The People vs O.J. was a vehicle for Sarah Paulson) and to that, I ask… so what? Abramson is an interesting character, and in the hands of Falco she’s endlessly watchable.

Also particularly great is Gus Halper as Erik, who is painted as the more sympathetic of the two brothers, constantly torn up about the crime he committed. Erik is always on the verge of confessing, while Lyle seems to easily move on and begin building himself a new life. Through flashbacks, we also see how their father emotionally abused Erik. While playing the sad, sympathetic sibling who’s controlled by his older brother might sound a bit cliché, Halper handles the material well, and at times you might forget that you’re sympathizing with a guy who executed his parents.

Bottom Line: I screened the first two episodes, but if NBC had given me all eight, I’d have probably found it pretty tough to leave my couch. Law & Order isn’t reinventing the wheel with this series, but it doesn’t have to. Dick Wolf clearly knows how to make a series work, and despite feeling a bit like it’s capitalizing on a current trend, the series also has something to say about wealth and privilege in America. Even when it’s simply aiming to retell a basic story about a grisly murder and the ensuing investigation, it remains largely entertaining and effective.

Law & Order: True Crime premieres tonight at 10 on NBC. Hit the comments to let us know what you're most excited to see in the premiere, and feel free to follow me on Twitter for more on this series and all my other SpoilerTV work.

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