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Impeachment: American Crime Story Premiere Review: “Exiles”

Impeachment: American Crime Story premieres Sept. 7, 2021 at 10pm ET/PT on FX.

Impeachment: American Crime Story revisits the Clinton-Lewinsky sex scandal 23 years after President Bill Clinton was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice in a 10-hour limited series with a distinct point of view. Regardless of your personal politics, the case itself was an absolute media circus that dominated the news cycle for months and helped launch partisan politics into a new stratosphere of divisiveness. It also made Monica Lewinsky a national mockery and the subject of intense victim-shaming derision that, in hindsight, is beyond appalling and misogynist. But the male point of view dominated coverage at the time, reducing the women involved to cartoon pawns that fit the stereotypes desired by everything from cable news shows to late-night staples.

What Impeachment: American Crime Story, the third in executive producer Ryan Murphy, Nina Jacobson, and Brad Simpson’s sporadic limited series concept for FX, does right from the pilot episode, “Exiles,” is make it clear that the story everyone remembers most as a prurient political punchline is actually an intensely personal one for the people at its center. Based on Jeffrey Toobin’s book A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President and Lewinsky’s own autobiography, the narrative is led by the perspectives of Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein), Linda Tripp (Sarah Paulson), and Paula Jones (Annaleigh Ashford).

In the pilot, it’s these three disparate women who provide the primary perspectives. In January 1998, Lewinsky opens the series as the soft-spoken young woman sadly packing mementos in her D.C. apartment for an impending move to New York City. A call from her Pentagon friend/colleague Tripp, suggesting a lunch meeting to “solve” Monica’s problem, sets the stage for the FBI to bring Lewinsky into custody for questioning regarding the ongoing investigation of President Bill Clinton. Livid at Tripp’s participation, Lewinsky calls her friend a “treacherous bitch,” and the series is off and running.

The narrative then jumps back in time to 1993 and sets up Tripp’s life and career as the secretary to Deputy White House Council Vince Foster. In a stunning transformation, Paulson is almost unrecognizable as Tripp, changing her look and physical gait to embody the middle-aged career civil servant. We get a taste of where Tripp is currently: a single parent, partial to the politics of the prior administration and upset about her overall station in life. The show contextualizes her bitterness at losing agency in her own career based on uncontrollable circumstances and partisan whims, and makes her more of a human, flaws and all.

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The series even dips into comedy with its portrayal of Paula Jones and her out-of-work actor husband, Steve (Taran Killam). He sees fit to leverage the embarrassment of an article that mentions his wife in a sexual harassment incident with then Governor Clinton as the path to his potential casting in Designing Women. His opportunism is ridiculous and bordering on parody, in terms of the “stupid Southerners” trope, but Ashford manages to makes Jones sympathetic as a woman, not unlike Lewinsky, thrust into a situation she severely underestimated.

Paulson is almost unrecognizable as Tripp.


All three women, in fact, are not cast as just one thing, which history at the time deigned to do. Instead, they are introduced as complex participants in their lives, orchestrators and partial victims to their situations and choices, which already makes the series and its approach an inherently interesting one.

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