I didn’t know much about the circumstances surrounding Bill Clinton’s impeachment when my classmates snickered at the name “Monica Lewinsky.” In 1998, she was only 25 years old when her affair with Bill Clinton led to his impeachment. Twenty-three years later, she’s a producer on the newest installment of FX’s anthology series “American Crime Story” (2016–).
The American political sphere has been dominated by men, and the Clinton impeachment scandal embodied that sense of patriarchy. The newest season, “Impeachment,” attempts to show this period through women’s eyes. In some ways, it is refreshing to see a story whose narrative was controlled by men, both politicians and reporters alike, be presented in a TV-show format through the viewpoints of three key women: Monica Lewinsky, Linda Tripp and Paula Jones.
Beanie Feldstein of “Booksmart” (2019) plays the young intern, with Broadway star Annaleigh Ashford as Paula Jones and Sarah Paulson, who is a regular in Ryan Murphy’s projects, as Linda Tripp in “Impeachment.” All three actresses excel in their roles, bringing fresh light to such historic women while fully embodying their characters. Feldstein in particular does a truly amazing job expressing Lewinsky’s emotional turmoil throughout both her time working in government in the D.C. sphere and the later dramatic fallout from the Clinton affair. While women’s perspectives are most central to the series, Clive Owen also does such a good job as the president and plays a key role in the story.
The script is excellently written, and if you are not familiar with this key moment in American political history, directors Ryan Murphy, Michael Uppendahl, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre and Rachel Morrison make sure you have all the pieces sorted. The show even integrates archival footage, including an SNL skit, pulling audiences into the time period it chronicles.
One interesting storyline follows the various reporters and lawyers who invested themselves first in the Jones lawsuit and later in the Clinton impeachment, shedding light on another side of this historical moment. Viewers may also be unaware of Paula Jones’ civil suit against the president until watching the first episodes of the series. Jones was a civil servant in Arkansas when Clinton was governor and alleged that he had sexually harassed her. The show uses a #MeToo-era lens to critically analyze the media’s reception to her allegations and foreshadow that of Lewinsky’s case.
The biggest mistake made in the show’s production would have to be the way Sarah Paulson was made to resemble Tripp through extensive padding. The LA Times reported that “Paulson … gained 30 pounds and wore additional padding — weighing roughly 4.5 pounds — to mimic Tripp’s shape, particularly in the upper body.” While padding isn’t a true ‘fatsuit,’ it is still a symptom of Hollywood’s systemic fatphobia.
Additionally, some plot points were dramatized to appeal to a wider audience — it’s not a true crime documentary or reenactment. Small details were changed to increase the entertainment value of the show; for example, Lewinsky and Tripp didn’t actually create a spreadsheet of the young intern’s romantic encounters with the president.
These were further clarified when Lewinsky was interviewed by The New York Times reporter Jessica Bennett, who noted, “Then there is Lewinsky the person, who has to keep reminding herself that this is ‘a dramatization,’ and that it is possible to make a show about the past while still moving forward.” Certainly not all the actions of Feldstein’s Lewinsky match those of the real woman who lived through the affair and the public humiliation with a shadow looming over her name for over two decades. It’s refreshing to see her come full circle as she works to reclaim her public image as a producer on the show, and the show seems intent on humanizing the women at the heart of the scandal.
Overall, “Impeachment: American Crime Story” does a wonderful job with its dialogue, characterization and cinematography and weaves an intricate storyline to keep audience’s hooked every Tuesday night. Fans of the two previous seasons, “The People v. O.J. Simpson” (2016) or “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” (2018), are sure to be hooked once again from the opening scene.