TV has had its Golden Ages and Clunker Ages and everything in between.
But let’s tighten the focus: Right now – November, 2021 – is the Golden Age of mini-series based on important news events. That encompasses:
– “Impeachment: American Crime Story,” at 10 p.m. Tuesdays on FX, concluding Nov. 9; and
– “Dopesick” (shown here with Kaitlyn Dever), streaming Wednesdays on Hulu, concluding Nov. 17.
Both follow the same playbook: Take a vital subject. Include all the major figures; point fingers, name names. But also catch the impact on everyday people.
“Impeachment” looks at the attempt to oust Bill Clinton from the presidency. It’s unblinking in its view of the big guys: Clinton is a liar and an adulterer; many of the people on the prosecution side are crass opportunists, turning a land-deal probe into a wretched soap opera.
But its real focus is on the regular folks caught in the undertow. Beanie Felstein and Annaleigh Ashford bring rich humanity to Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones; Sarah Paulson does her best with Linda Tripp, a harder person to like.
This week (Nov. 2), Lewinsky and Tripp appear before a grand jury. FX has put an embargo on reviews, so we’ll simply say that the contrast is intriguing.
“Dopesick” looks at the Purdue Pharma push to convince doctors and patients that OxyContin is non-addictive. That led to an opioid epidemic that shattered the hard-scrabble, working-guy world.
Again, we see all the big-deal people: Michael Stuhlberg, who played a lethal crime boss in “Your Honor,” now plays Richard Sackler, relentlessly pushing OxyContin into a billion-dollar payday. I’m not sure which of the two is worse.
Also portrayed are many of the people on his side – including (Nov. 3 and 10) Rudy Giulianni – and the key federal attorneys who pushed the case against them.
But the real power here is when “Dopesick” fictionalizes some of the people affected. Michael Keaton plays an earnest doctor in coal country, hoping this can be a godsend for his battered patients. Dever plays one of them, a young miner. As the Nov. 3 episode begins, he’s in rehab and has lost his medical license; Keaton and Dever bring subtle perfection to the roles.
Danny Strong has written other things – including co-creating “Empire” – but he’s at his best dramatizing real life. He won an Emmy for “Game Change” and a nomination for “Recount.”
Those two had to tell massive stories in a two-hour movie; now, instead, Strong has written eight potent hours off “Dopesick,” also directing the final two. The result is a worthy piece of the Golden Month for true-drama TV.