Monica Lewinsky gets her own back? Why FX’s American Crime Story – about Bill Clinton’s impeachment – is the most binge-worthy TV show to watch right now
Impeachment as entertainment might seem impossible after years of slogging through the real thing in the US. The Trump administration brought day after day of melodrama and never fully stuck the landing.
Executive producer Ryan Murphy’s 10-episode anthology series is propelled by the brand of brisk, addictive storytelling, stellar casting and high-end soap appeal that have defined the American Crime Story franchise since its first entry, The People v. O.J. Simpson. It delves into the stories behind the political theatre, following the women who were actively involved in – or involuntarily pulled into – the mammoth Republican effort to eject Clinton from the Oval Office.
Sarah Paulson does a phenomenal job portraying Linda Tripp, the former White House secretary who exposed the affair between Clinton and Lewinsky. The leak led to his impeachment, fuelled the careers of far-right crusaders such as Ann Coulter (Cobie Smulders), and exposed the beginning of a divided Washington D.C. bent on revenge rather than governance. Additional players include Paula Jones (Annaleigh Ashford), whose sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton played a key role in the scandal, and, of course, Hillary Clinton (Edie Falco).
Owen and Falco are Bill and Hillary here. They nail it, from his laid-back mannerisms, Arkansas drawl and wandering hands to her awkward dance as an accomplished, ambitious woman struggling to fit the role of demure first lady and scorned wife. Feldstein is equally convincing as the beret-clad Lewinsky. She’s naive, but not stupid. She knows Bill has her on booty-call speed dial, but she’s hopelessly infatuated with him – he’s the president! Her fatal mistake is taking Tripp into her confidence.
Impeachment chronicles the start of their “friendship” after both women were transferred from the White House to work at the Pentagon. When Lewinsky disclosed details about her relationship with Clinton, the duplicitous Tripp saw an opportunity for revenge with a tell-all book. She was angry about being passed over for a promotion in the West Wing after her former boss Vince Foster took his own life, so she coaxed and manipulated Lewinsky to spill the beans, taping their phone conversations. Her 20 hours of secret recordings would later become central to Clinton’s 1998 impeachment. Tripp died last year at the age of 70.
The real Monica Lewinsky is a producer on the series, which may explain why Tripp is portrayed as a bitter, self-serving monster who elicits no pity as she eats her sad, microwaveable Weight Watchers dinners alone in front of the nightly news. The tone is set in the first episode, when Lewinsky heads to the mall to meet Tripp for lunch, only to be greeted by her and the FBI. “You treacherous b****,” Lewinsky tells Tripp.
Head writer Sarah Burgess and her team adapt Jeffrey Toobin’s 1999 book, A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal that Nearly Brought Down a President, into a drama that tracks the anatomy of a scandal and the ways in which the changing mediascape – the rise of 24-hour cable news and the internet at the top of the list – capitalised on all the salaciousness.
You’ll need a flow chart and Google to keep up with the cast of characters and the roles they play in the saga: literary agent Lucianne Goldberg (Margo Martindale), commentator Matt Drudge (Billy Eichner), Lewinsky’s mother, Marcia Lewis (Mira Sorvino), US District Judge Susan Webber Wright (Kathleen Turner) and Clinton adviser Vernon Jordan (Blair Underwood), to name just a few.
Impeachment makes a point of showing how almost all of the women wrapped up in the Clinton scandal were used as pawns to either prop up or destroy one of the most beloved and hated US presidents up to that point in modern history. They are the story.
- Compared to the drama that former US president Donald Trump caused in the White House, the scandal between Clinton and an intern is almost quaint in comparison
- Season 3 of the true crime drama series stars American Horror Story actress Sarah Paulson as Linda Tripp and Edie Falco as Hillary Clinton – who nail their roles