There’s still a week until the first episode of Impeachment: American Crime Story debuts, but the reviews are already in — and it seems it’s as much of a mess as the story it’s telling. The latest in Ryan Murphy’s anthology series about true crime stories (loosely defined) tells the tale of Monica Lewinsky, who as an intern had a fling with the 42nd president of the United States, all of which led to a national scandal. You remember, or at least are aware. And most of the reviews hit the same notes: pretty good performances (well, some of them), slapdash storytelling, and way too much dwelling on ’90s fare (AOL dial-up, pagers, brick-sized cell phones, etc.).
The all-star cast, at least, got mostly good grades. Many reviews single out Sarah Paulson (and her admittedly problematic “fat suit”) for her Linda Tripp, the Lewinsky coworker who broke the news of her affair. Beanie Feldstein is widely praised for disappearing into the role of Lewinsky, who also executive produced and reportedly oversaw every script. Others, like Billy Eichner’s Matt Drudge, were seen as way too broad, emblematic of Murphy’s approach to an event that arguably paved the way for the splintered hellhole that consumes the nation of today.
Some, like The Hollywood Reporter, found that the seven (out of 10) episodes made available to members of the press were powerfully disorganized:
Even as the season zeroes in on the finer details of the story (drawing primarily from Jeffrey Toobin’s book A Vast Conspiracy), it struggles to locate a larger point worthy of the time it takes to convey it. For a star-studded drama about an explosive historical moment, Impeachment feels oddly static.
IndieWire criticized the “staged recreations, showy casting, and lack of insight” which “make this season feel like a tardy version of Saturday Night Live”:
Certain castings are too attention-seeking to carry any weight (like Taran Killam as Paula Jones’ blustery husband Steve, or Billy Eichner playing reporter-dress-up as Matt Drudge). Too many lines are either gross meta jokes (like Brett Kavanaugh’s first remark, “I never like to take no for an answer”) or brazen reminders that Bill Clinton’s scandal opened the door for Donald Trump’s presidency — which, to be fair, could contribute to the series’ historical reframing, except the argument is as thin as the allusions are heavy-handed.
Variety took issue with the tone, among other things:
Taking itself too seriously to be camp, but not seriously enough to avoid some of TV’s most obvious traps, the series struggles so hard to juggle every storyline it tackles that the scripts often force characters to be the most obvious versions of themselves. Given the chance to portray people who continue to have outsized influence on politics and the world today, “Impeachment” rarely resists the opportunity to remind the audience of that fact with lines so clunky they might as well be said through winks aimed directly at the camera.
TV Line says it’s simply too Ryan Murphy:
Impeachment also falls victim to Murphy’s worst storytelling instincts: shallow characterization, shock value substituting for genuine surprise, and dialogue that tells instead of showing. The characters here say exactly how they feel and what they’re thinking — and loudly. (“Stop worrying about Whitewater!” one White House official yells to another.) The whole project has a gloomy, bad energy to it, feigning gravitas with ponderous cutaways to presidential portraits and justice statues. Murphy takes a backseat to Burgess in the credits — she wrote four of the first six episodes — but his fingerprints here are unmistakable.
Not everyone is underwhelmed. Entertainment Weekly says it “deftly avoids ‘both sides’ equivocations or overtly partisan shading,” though even they agree with others that the show is overly dense, and that following it is “made more complicated” by a lot of jumping around on the timeline.
You can judge for yourself when Impeachment: American Crime Story debuts on FX on September 7.