Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.
After a long wait, Impeachment: American Crime Story premieres on FX this Tuesday. The beauty of these Ryan Murphy-produced "series events" is that everyone knows what's going to happen, but taking the ride is enlightening and entertaining as hell. Monica Lewinsky herself is a producer on this telling of the events, and the actress portraying her gives a striking performance, warts and all.
No one ever gets tired of the Lewinsky saga. Impeachment and infidelity are the hooks, but mix in The President of the United States and a White House intern, a friend’s betrayal, FBI involvement and investigations, denials across the board, and a key piece of fabric – what more do you need for some first-rate small screen storytelling?
American Crime Story has an excellent track record. In 2016, ESPN put together an award-winning 30 for 30 documentary on O.J. Simpson. The ten-part American Crime Story version The People vs. O.J. Simpson arrived around the same time, and it packed just as powerful of a punch. I'm generally not a fan of re-enactments, but the top-notch cast led by John Travolta, Sarah Paulson and Courtney B. Vance had me rapt.
The show’s second iteration in 2018, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, didn't have as high profile of a cast, but it reinforced a pattern – tell a sensationalized tale with quality actors and treat it very seriously. It works.
Cred has been firmly established with the two previous versions, so why not explore the Clinton scandal? We know the story, but now it's being re-told as only American Crime Story can. And what a cast. Sarah Paulson is back, this time as Linda Tripp. Clive Owen plays President Clinton, Edie Falco is Hillary, and Beanie Feldstein tackles the role of Monica.
Many great comedic and dramatic actors have played these high profile individuals, but everything hinges on the vulnerability of Monica, and Beanie delivers a breakout performance. This will come as no surprise if you've seen her Lady Bird or Booksmart; Beanie captures the enigmatic White House intern in a way never seen before. Lewinsky's direct involvement could have gone either way, but this feels like you're watching the former White House intern take her journey for the first time.
The relationship explored in the greatest depth isn't the one between POTUS and the intern. It's Lewinsky and Tripp. Understanding their initial trust followed by the ultimate betrayal is a fascinating exercise. The poor treatment they receive from their idolized version of the White House connects them in a profound way and provides deeper context when Linda presses record on those tapes.
Everyone in the talented cast brings an edge to their characters. It would be very easy to present them as cliches at this point, but getting inside what makes Linda Tripp, Ken Starr, or any of those names from the headlines tick is a worthwhile voyage.
The third chapter in American Crime Story rises to the challenge once again of keeping me hooked in spite of knowing how things are going to turn out. It's a formula well worth repeating.
THIS WEEK’S SPTINAFOBYMB!
(Shows Premiering That I'm Not A Fan Of But You Might Be!)
Being James Bond (APPLE TV+) – Craig. Daniel Craig reflects on being shaken not stirred. Arrives Tuesday.
On The Verge (NETFLIX) – Julie Delpy and three female pals explore life in their late 40's in L.A. Embarks Tuesday.
Doogie Kamealoha, M.D. (DISNEY+) – A reboot with the teenage medical prodigy being an Asian American girl in Hawaii. Checks in Wednesday.
Frogger (PEACOCK) – Based on the 80's video game where a frog braves traffic, alligators and turtles. Game on Thursday.
The Smurfs (NICKELODEON) – They're blue and they're back. Smurfs Friday at 7:30pm.
2021 Video Music Awards (MTV) – Doja Cat hosts as MTV fetes all the videos they ignored this year. Moonman Sunday at 8pm.
THIS WEEK'S PICKS
Canadian hospitality, a broken relationship and Pennsylvania law…
Come From Away (APPLE TV+)
Friday, September 10th
A tiny Canadian town welcomes 7,000 stranded travelers from the 9/11 air travel shutdown. This is a filmed version of the stage play featuring the Broadway cast. It's an uplifting message in contrast with the horrible events that leads these passengers to Newfoundland.
Scenes From A Marriage (HBO)
Sunday, September 12th 9pm
Ingmar Bergman is back again. His 1973 Swedish miniseries has been remade countless times, and this five-episode HBO drama packs just as powerful of a punch as its predecessors.
Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac star as the married couple whose relationship falls apart as time marches on. Brought to you buy the team behind The Affair and In Treatment, prepare for some heavy emotion and long conversations with your spouse. Watch the trailer.
American Rust (SHOWTIME)
Sunday, September 12th 10pm
If Jeff Daniels is on television, I'm going to tune in. He plays a police chief in the Pennsylvania rust belt who runs into some complications when the son of the woman he's having an affair with gets accused of murder.
The cast is stacked - Bill Camp, Maura Tierney, Mark Pellegrino and other familiar faces you’d expect to see in a small-town PA drama. Once you're done in Easttown, drive across the Keystone state to another depressing town full of mystery.
If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.
Get vaccinated. Stay healthy and safe!
Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.