The new documentary series examines the “why” of the infamous crime.
In 1989, the brothers Lyle and Eric Menendez murdered their parents, Jose and Kitty, in their home in Beverly Hills. The murder, and the brothers’ subsequent trial, was a TV and tabloid sensation from the commission of the crime through the conclusion of the brothers’ trial in 1994, in which they were defended by their passionate attorney Leslie Abramson. Ultimately, the brothers were convicted and received prison sentences of life without parole. Now, as part of its new documentary branch of the venerable franchise, Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders re-examines the case.
Due to its documentary nature, L&O: True Crime is more sober and slow-paced than other Law & Order programs have been. The content is also somewhat more graphic than is typical. The shotgun murders of Jose and Kitty are explicit and very bloody, though they are largely confined to the first minutes of hour one of the eight-hour miniseries. (Subsequent episodes feature very brief flashbacks.) Profanity is also more explicit than usual, with multiple occasions of “bitch,” “ass,” and “faggot.” Sexual content (at least in the first episodes) is limited to the antics of Eric’s adulterous psychiatrist Dr. Oziel and his loony lover Judalon Smyth, who cups the doctor’s crotch while breathily moaning for “doctor daddy” to pleasure her. (The program’s writer Rene Balcer has stated that the Oziel-Judalon relationship is intended to be comic relief to the serious murder and trial going on elsewhere on the show.)
“True Crime is the first Law & Order to have an agenda,” proclaims the franchise’s creator Dick Wolf. (Presumably, Wolf meant “an agenda other than making money for Wolf Productions and getting higher ratings for NBC.”) At a Paley Center panel, Wolf referred to the brothers’ allegations that their father had sexually molested them and their mother was a mentally-unstable drug addict as their motive for killing their parents. Wolf stated his belief that the Menendez murders were “a horrible crime, but the punishment exceeds the underpinnings of the crime…For what they did and why, it’s been long enough.” Thus, the program intends to create a sympathetic understanding for what the brothers did. Whatever an individual’s outlook on the crime and the trial’s verdict, the program may also depict the molestation of the young boys in a future episode. Parents should take warning.
Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders premieres Tuesday, September 26 at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBC.