Before there was O.J., there was Menendez. Lyle and Erik Menendez, that is. Their trial was the first to be televised in its entirety on the then fairly new Court TV (which was later relaunched as truTV). The brothers became stars of the original “Trial of the Century” before there was a “Trial of the Century.”
The past several years have seen frequent revisits to past crimes, with documentaries and scripted shows about O.J. Simpson and JonBenet Ramsey, among others. America’s obsession with true crime, particularly notoriously infamous cases from the 90s, shows no sign of slowing down. This year, three separate projects about the Menendez brothers, who were charged with the murders of their parents, Jose and Kitty Menendez, in 1990, have been released, with the final one set to premiere tonight.
The 2017 journey back to the case began on January 5th, when ABC aired a documentary titled Truth and Lies: The Menendez Brothers. I decided to watch it because while I had heard of the case, I wasn’t aware of any of the details regarding the motive of what led Lyle and Erik to gun down their parents in their Beverly Hills mansion in August 1989. While the documentary was fairly neutral, featuring interviews with lawyers, family, friends, and witnesses from both sides, it revealed a lot of information that could potentially cause people to change their perspective of the case.
At the time of the trial, which began in 1993, the media was very biased against the brothers, portraying them as rich spoiled brats who murdered their parents solely because they wanted to inherit their family’s fortune. What the general public seemed to have forgotten, or were possibly never even aware of, is that the defense alleged that Lyle and Erik were the victims of years of severe physical, verbal, emotional, and even sexual abuse, mostly at the hands of their entertainment executive father.
The most captivating part of the documentary was when clips of older brother Lyle’s testimony about the abuse were shown. Witnesses explained how the entire courtroom was dead silent as he gave excruciating details of what he and his brother endured. Some skeptics may say that Lyle could be lying, but he’d have to be an actor of Meryl Streep-ian proportions in order to pull that off. If you’d like to see for yourself, click here to watch the full documentary on YouTube.
The next TV special arrived on June 11th in the form of a Lifetime movie called Menendez: Blood Brothers, which turned out to be shockingly decent…for a Lifetime movie. Courtney Love starred as mother Kitty Menendez, which felt a bit odd, especially considering the speculation that she had something to do with the demise of her late husband, rock legend and Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain (but that’s a discussion for a different article). Nevertheless, she’s a competent actress, and the rest of the cast did a commendable job as well. Nico Tortorella, who I’d previously seen in Scream 4 and the Fox TV series The Following, played Lyle, and he was particularly impressive during the intense testimony scenes.
The movie dove even further into the abuse allegations than the documentary. It told the story from the perspective of the brothers, as if everything they claimed was indeed true. The only issue I had takes me back to Courtney Love. Kitty was portrayed as a ghost-like figure in Erik’s mind throughout the film. It reminded me of the father haunting that’s seen on Dexter, so it seemed inappropriate for something that’s based on a true story. At least it didn’t turn out like one of the butchered biopics that Lifetime dishes out like chocolate at a women’s book club. Check out the trailer for the movie by clicking here.
The latest and most high-profile project set to rehash the case is a spinoff of Law & Order called Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders. The eight-episode limited series stars Emmy and Golden Globe winning actress Edie Falco, who’s best known for her work on The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie. She plays loyal and tough as nails defense attorney Leslie Abramson, whose character had very limited screen time in the Lifetime movie. It seems that Abramson will be the main character on this show, much like last year’s The People v O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story focused on the lawyers more than the defendant. While Law & Order producer Dick Wolf has even admitted that the success of that show had a lot to do with his decision to take his long-running franchise in the “true crime” direction and steer away from the simply “ripped from the headlines” tradition that it’s known for, my gut feeling is that this will turn out to be the most worthwhile of the three Menendez projects released this year. It will also be the most important because the truth will be revealed for so many who didn’t know or were quick to judge by believing the media.
Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders debuts tonight (Tuesday 9/26) at 10:00pm EST on NBC, and the rest of the eight episodes will continue to air on Tuesdays at the same time and place.