There are some near-miracles that only great talent can achieve.
Now “Impeachment” – the compelling mini-series that opens at 10 p.m. Sept. 7 on FX – has accomplished two of them: It makes us like Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones. A lot.
You can credit the sharp script by playwright Sarah Burgess, adapting the story of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky (shown here in real life). And credit two gifted actress.
Playing Lewinsky is Beanie Feldstein, who drew paise in “Booksmart” and “What We Do in the Shadows.” Playing Jones is Annaleigh Ashford, a Tony-winner who is perfect in “B Positive.”
These real-life women came from opposite ends of the social world. Lewinsky grew up in upper-crust Los Angeles, the daughter of an oncologist; Jones grew up in a tiny Arkansas town, the daughter of a Church of the Nazarene preacher. Lewinsky graduated from college and later got a Master’s Degree; Jones briefly went to secretarial school.
But both were tossed around because they came across Bill Clinton. Jones apparently resisted instantly, Lewinsky didn’t, but both became pawns in political power struggles.
It’s tempting to see “Impeachment” as a gender war – pushy men ruling vulnerable women. But there are plenty of overbearing women, too. In the episodes that were available for review – the first seven in a 10-part series – we see Jones being manipulated by a woman who cares only about the politics, not the person; we see Lewinsky being bossed by her mom and by her pseudo-friend, Linda Tripp. We see a bombastic Ann Coulter, seething in the background.
What comes across are two good-spirited people whose backgrounds didn’t prepare them for this. Feldstein and Ashford make them both seem worth rooting for.
“Impeachment” is by people who triumphed five years ago with “The People vs. O.J. Simpson”: Producer-director Ryan Murphy, using an adaptation of a Jeffrey Toobin book, with Sarah Paulson in a key role – Marcia Clark then, Tripp now.
In both cases, few people come out well. We’ll hate some (Tripp, for instance) and be perplexed by others. Was Clinton a soft-hearted guy who couldn’t say no or a hard-headed liar? It’s up for debate.
Like the O.J. tale, this is the true story of a failed case, highlighting daft moments. That peaks with Lewinsky and two dour FBI agents killing time at the mall, while waiting for her mama to arrive.
The O.J. story pointed lightly to the future fame of the Kardashian kids. This has many such people.
The young lawyer on Ken Starr’s committee is now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The guy who had a single, pleasant date with Lewinsky? That’s Jake Tapper, now a CNN anchor.
The lawyer working with Coulter, to stir the Jones case? That’s George Conway, now known as the anti-Trumper married to longtime Trump aide Kellyanne Conway.
The religious couple working as private eyes for Jones’ lawyers? Their daughter, Miranda Lambert, is now a country-music star.
Other brief performances spice this mini-series. Cobie Smulders is a fierce Coulter; her husband Taran Killam is Jones’ dim-but-supportive husband. Billy Eichner is a strutting Matt Drudge; Mira Sorvino is Lewinsky’s mom. And Paulson is just right, as usual, this time as Tripp.
Like the O.J. mini-series, “Impeachment” is cleverly written and perfectly played. It’s a lot of fun, actually … except when we remember that this came close to paralyzing the U.S. government.
– “Impeachment: American Crime Story”
– Debuts 10 p.m. Tuesday (Sept. 7) on FX, rerunning at 11 p.m., midnight and 1 a.m.
– Continues on Tuesdays, for 10-episode run