A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders focuses on the real-life 1989 murders of Jose and Kitty Menendez, by their sons Lyle and Erik. The murders are violently executed, and shotgun blasts and blood splatters are shown. More than one character is portrayed as emotionally unbalanced, one has a prescription pill habit and another attempts suicide by putting their head in an oven. The parents are portrayed as being sexually and verbally abusive toward their children, and the father uses homophobic slurs. Smoking and drinking are seen. Prison violence is touched on.
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What's the story?
Most shows in the Law & Order franchise take their inspiration from various real-life crimes and headlines, tweaking and fictionalizing them for the sake of TV drama for one or two episodes at most. This eight-episode miniseries, however, does not change names or details and focuses solely on the case of the Menendez brothers, Lyle and Erik, two wealthy young men from Beverly Hills who seemed to have it all, but were convicted in 1994 for the murders of their parents, Jose and Kitty -- an event they insist was the result of suffering years of sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of their parents. LAPD detectives Les Zoeller (Parenthood's Sam Jaeger) and Tom Linehan (Cliff Chamberlain) try to sniff out the truth, while self-motivated psychologist Dr. Jerome Oziel (The Good Wife's Josh Charles) uncovers startling admissions during his sessions with Erik Menendez. Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie) plays attorney Leslie Abramson, whose defense of the brothers is both fervent and flamboyant.
Is it any good?
Comparisons to 2016's The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story are inevitable, what with the 1990s backdrop and the strong female attorney character with a tight corkscrew perm. While that FX series may have provided a blueprint of sorts, this show hews closer to the traditional Law & Order format, complete with the iconic "dun-dun" sounds and a team of persistent cops trying their best to unearth the facts while an impatient district attorney breathes down their necks.
The cast is doing impressive work here, with Edie Falco's intelligent and confident performance being a real standout. Josh Charles is also excellent, striking a good balance between slimy and scared -- while Sam Jaeger's detective role is played delightfully no-nonsense and wry. Chris Bauer (True Blood, The Wire) also has a nice supporting turn as Abramson's put-upon husband. While we all may know how this case ended, the strong acting and comfortably familiar format keep this show from feeling too redundant and make it worth checking out.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way Law & Order True Crime differs from the rest of the shows in the Law & Order franchise. Is it a better idea to fictionalize actual crimes, as they usually do? Or did the way they approached the case in this miniseries work?
The police officers in Law & Order True Crime are shown working as a team. In what ways can teamwork be an integral part of a criminal investigation?
How does this series view the Menendez brothers? Are we as viewers supposed to like or sympathize with them? Did the show change your mind about their guilt or innocence?
- In theaters: September 27, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: September 11, 2018
- Cast: Edie Falco, Gus Halper, Miles Gaston Villanueva
- Directors: Fred Berner, Holly Dale, Leski Linka Glatter, Michael Pressman
- Studio: NBC Studios
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 344 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: December 1, 2020
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