The American Crime Story anthology series started out great with The People vs. O.J. Simpson and faultered with the still good The Assassination of Gianni Versace. However, Impeachment feels more like it was rushed into production before it was too late. It’s reported that the third season was going to focus on Hurricane Katrina and the the aftermath, but the series reportedlty stayed in limbo too long, so they decided to focus on the incidents leading up to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.
Originally it was scheduled to run in 2020 but they considered holding it until 2021 not to affect the election. But Covid-19 pushed production back anyway. I think there might have been some legal issues that has kept this series on a rocky path the last few years. Impeachment premiered in the fall of 2021 on FX but didn’t start streaming until this year. In the aftermath of the MeToo movement, you can’t help but cringe at certain scenes particularly one episode in which Monica Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein) is held in a hotel room supposedly against her will by people with the Office of the Independent Council. One of them, Jackie Bennett (Darren Goldstein) bullies her into basically saying Lewsinksy and her family will be in Leavenworth by the end of the day if they don’t do what they want as Mike Emmick (Colin Hanks) plays the only logical and rational one.
They’re pressuring Lewinsky into a deal she has to make that very day or else they’ll come after her. Watching this series after hearing of the death of Kenneth Starr, who was in charge of the OIC (and knowing what he did at Baylor University by protecting student athletes of suspected sexual assaults), you can’t help but see this is nothing more than a witchhunt against Clinton. As a matter of fact, that’s what a lot of people thought back in 1998 when the story broke.
The series starts out in 1993 when Clinton had started his first year and it was a rocky time. People were still trying to get Bill and Hillary Clinton over the Whitewater controversy which was a land development deal from the late 1970s. Then on July 20, 1993 Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster (Matthew Floyd Miller) drives out to a wooded area and fatally shoots himself. His administrative assistant is Linda Tripp (Sarah Paulson) who walks around the White House like she owns the place. She is upset that she’s being shut out of her office as an investigation is ongoing. Eventually, Tripp is transferred to the Pentagon to work for the Department of Defense which she is not to happy about even though she’ll be making $20,000 more a year. It’s implied no one at the White House likes her and she doesn’t make friends in her new job.
The problem from the get-go with Impeachment is it needs about one of two episodes before we can even get to the case of Vince Foster. Then, it jumps to Lewinsky going to work at the Pentagon after being transferred from the White House. Feldstein does a good role as Lewinsky but she’s too wrong in her appearance. The criticism of Lewinsky in the late 1990s was that she was fat, but actaully, she would just be considered plus-sized. Feldstein is too dumpy in her role. She’s too short. But considering the controversy over Paulson wearing a fat suit as Tripp, I’ll just take it as an artistic license.
And I’m not saying Feldstein is bad. She carries the series. It doesn’t shy away from telling us it’s her story. But it’s also Tripp’s story. And Paulson does her best to make us hate Tripp in every scene she’s in. Tripp is one of those people who would get impatient if she had to wait behind someone with a huge shopping cart but also would give the people behind her attitude if they even let out a sigh if she had a huge shopping cart. Her work attitude is “This place will fall apart if I’m not here.”
Tripp is the serie’s villain along with the OIC and the conservatives who turned over every item they could to get Clinton removed. When they deliver the Starr Report, Bennett says that this is how the Democrats must’ve felt when they went after Nixon and Watergate. But what Bennett and other conservatives don’t realize is that Republicans were just as eager to get to the bottom of the Watergate scandal than the Democrats were. A lot has changed in 25 years between Watergate and “Zippergate” as it became known.
The series also focuses on Paula Jones (Annaleigh Ashford) in a sympathetic tone even though the real Jones has publicly criticized the series. Jones’ husband, Steve (Taran Killam) seems to be nothing more than typical redneck husband stereotype always mad at Paula with a permanent scowl on his face whenver she even is in his presence. And we see Jones become a pawn for the Republican Party as a means to go after Clinton.
Jones becomes the subject of a conservative feminist battle waged activist Stephanie Carpenter-McMillan (Judith Light) who openly supports and defends her from the beginning. But as it appears Jones is going to be lost among the hoopla surrounding Lewinsky, Carpenter-McMillan starts backing away. Finally when Jones has to demean herself by having a pscyhic hotline and posing for Penthouse, Carpenter-McMillan and other conservative Christian people who supported her suddenly abandoned her.
Ashford does a good job of portraying a woman who was too embarrassed to discuss the allegations in front of lawyers because she was just a small-town Arkansas woman. Steve, on the other hand, is an opportunist. I didn’t know he was a struggling actor and had appeared in Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train. He saw money signs like others. I’m not saying Killam is bad, but his approach to the role is too one-dimensional. He comes off almost as a knuckle-dragger.
And that’s the main problem. The series doesn’t know if it wants to be serious or a black comedy or switch back and forth between the two. Killam’s real-life wife Colbie Smulders plays Ann Coulter but she plays her with such disdain and hatred, it’s almost like a parody. I’m not defending Coulter one bit. I hate her and despise her because she and others got us to where we are now. And I’m sure that’s the purpose between a scene with her and Matt Drudge (Billy Eichner) where they discuss the new era of conservatives.
On the flip side, along with Bennett’s bulldogish approach, Starr is played by Dan Bakkedahal as someone who asks God’s forgiveness that he has to touch his penis because he has to urinate. Bakkedahl is known for his comedic roles in shows like VEEP and The Daily Show. He plays the character too much like parody. And there’s also Brett Kavanaugh (Alan Starzinski) who plays the character like a frat boy who just saw a bunch of women flash their boobs on Girls Gone Wild. Both Starr and Kavanaugh on the OIC with their checkered history is never really delved into further. It’s mainly just name dropping so viewers can think, “Wait, didn’t he?” before they do a Google search.
As for the Clintons themselves, Clive Owen does an empathetic person as the former Commander-in-Chief. Despite a prostethic nose and grey wig, he turns Bill Clinton into a person who had a lot going against him going in. For anyone who doesn’t remember the early 1990s, it might be hard to imagine how bad the Republican Party hated Clinton. The Reagan Romanticism was in full effect by 1992 and people always saw George H.W. Bush as a continuation of Reagan’s policies.
And that was both good and bad.
You see the Cold War was ending left and right during Bush’s term. A lot of people felt Reagan should get credit for that. Since Bush was in office, it should be well enough to get him re-elected. But the problem was while the world was changing, Americans were expected to remain the same. The economy was crashing in the middle of a recession. The racial divide had grown more under Reagan which hit the zenith with the L.A. Riots of 1992. A lot of white people who would traditionally vote Republican agreed with the acquittal.
Oh, there also was a third party politician named H. Ross Perot who helped take a lot of votes away from the Republican. He was able to appeal to both liberals and conservatives but he was mostly able to appeal to the one who otherwise would’ve voted for Bush. And since Clinton was the winner, the Republicans went after him in his first term scrapping the bottom of the barrel to find anything wrong. The government shutdown shown here where the first time Clinton and Lewinsky meet was eventually blamed on the Republican-controlled Congress. Newt Gingrich, House Speaker at the time, took the heat for that, which is why by the time the impeachment came to a vote, Gingrich was gone.
The economy got better and Clinton was easily re-elected mainly because Republican challenger Bob Dole was an old-school Republican in a different era. But younger voters, the Gen Xers liked Clinton better. I’ll admit Clinton wasn’t always the best. The fact that he tried to accommodate the Republicans too much and they still voted to impeach him is a sign the times were changing. Just get him out of office by any means necessary was their way of doing things.
Owen is great. During a scene before the grand jury where he delivers the infamous “What ‘is’ is?” speech, you can see how he was able to use the conservatives against each other. While Drudge, Coulter, and Kavanaugh wanted to play dirtier, Starr felt the it would be easiser to get him on technicalities. And that’s why he was eventually acquitted. Even when presented with testimony that Clinton has been accused of sexual assault by Juanita Broaddick, Starr says it doesn’t matter. Broaddick had initially denied any sexual assault allegations then admitted it on a second investigation. It would’ve damaged her credit but it might have shown Clinton may have acted more inappropriately.
As for Edie Falco as Hillary Clinton, she never really is given much to do. She appears briefly in one scene in the first episode than remains mostly vanishes until well into the the latter half of the series. I’m guessing her screen time was reduced because the production didn’t want to make it appear they were too in favor of her or against her. For God’s sakes, it’s been six years since the 2016 election and conservatives still can’t shut up screaming, “Lock her up!” Falco could’ve done better but she could’ve done worse.
This series is really about two women – Lewinsky and Tripp. The real Lewinsky was credited as a producer and that’s probably why most of it is told from her point of view. And it might explain why Tripp is portrayed so badly, even though public opinion about her in the late 1990s wasn’t too favorable. She was an opportunist and possibly upset that Bush had been voted out of office. This is the problem with civil servants in the D.C. area.
I doubt Tripp was really Lewinsky’s friend. She just found a young gullible person on who to collect gossip. Even after the Starr Report, many people still considered it nothing more than an affair between two consenting adults. As one of the grand jurors asks Tripp, why did she record the conversations if she was Lewinsky’s friend? Tripp could have gone to prison and she’s lucky she didn’t. And Paulson portrays her as a person who never saw what she did was wrong and even seeing herself as the victim.
Just like the events that happened in the late 1990s, Impeachment might be an intriquing and fascinating series to watch but at the end, you’ll still be puzzled by what, if anything, was meant to be accomplished.
What do you think? Please comment.