Home > Blog > Women Reclaim the Narrative of the Clinton Sex Scandal in 'Impeachment: American Crime Story' | KQED

Women Reclaim the Narrative of the Clinton Sex Scandal in 'Impeachment: American Crime Story' | KQED

Like the inaugural American Crime Story season focused on O.J. Simpson back in 2016, Impeachment is based on a Jeffrey Toobin book, A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President. (Given his own recent, um, difficulties with a Zoom call-centered scandal, I'm doubting Toobin will be making the publicity rounds for this production.) Playwright and screenwriter Sarah Burgess served as showrunner for Impeachment, with no involvement from Toobin.Women Reclaim the Narrative of the Clinton Sex Scandal in 'Impeachment: American Crime Story' | KQED

There is a sense here of women reclaiming and retelling a narrative once largely controlled by male journalists, politicians, comedians and activists.

Tripp gets the most nuanced treatment, humanized even as she is shown to be an unlikeable woman given to exaggerating her importance and feeling discarded when she is transferred out of the White House. Much as she tries to cast her befriending of Lewinsky and recording of her private conversations as some sort of intervention, Tripp also wants to use her knowledge for something she's never had before.Women Reclaim the Narrative of the Clinton Sex Scandal in 'Impeachment: American Crime Story' | KQED

To finally matter in a town where women with jobs like hers rarely do.

(It's a sign of Paulson's skill at sympathetic performances that, even after Impeachment shows Tripp's baldfaced betrayal of Lewinsky to Starr's investigators, you still feel as bit sorry for her as she sits with her grown kids to watch an actual SNL skit where beefy male actor John Goodman played her.)Women Reclaim the Narrative of the Clinton Sex Scandal in 'Impeachment: American Crime Story' | KQED

Predicting Digital Gossip and Hyperpartisanship

There are other, juicy tidbits here. Billy Eichner is pitch perfect as Matt Drudge, the webmaster whose leaking of a Lewinsky story Newsweek delayed publishing ushered in the world of cultivating digital gossip for pageviews. And Cobie Smulders is scarily arch as Ann Coulter, the conservative activist pushing to turn the president's affair into an impeachment that could drive a liberal leader from office.Women Reclaim the Narrative of the Clinton Sex Scandal in 'Impeachment: American Crime Story' | KQED

Another performance I really enjoyed was Owen's turn as Clinton. Outfitted with a large, prosthetic nose-a surprising number of characters here have them-and lilting drawl, he plays the scandal-plagued president in a more reflective, subdued way. This choice makes his Clinton seem less like a parody and more like an actual person. (More surprising is the near-invisibility of Edie Falco's Hillary Clinton in early episodes; she doesn't get a major scene until the season's seventh episode.)

Lewinsky has said her affair with the president was consensual. But the series shows Jones and former White House volunteer aide Kathleen Willey, played by Elizabeth Reaser, alleging that Clinton harassed or assaulted them without their consent. Owen's measured performance highlights the possibility that a smart, self-assured man like Clinton could still be capable of such terrible acts.

What Impeachment doesn't explain-at least in the seven episodes I saw-was a question only presented as fictionalized banter in the writer's room at Jay Leno's Tonight Show. Why did Clinton have the affair with Lewinsky in the first place, knowing how closely his conservative opponents were examining his life for any hint of scandal?