Picks and Pans Review: Menendez: a Killing in Beverly Hills

CBS (Sun., May 22, 9 p.m. ET)


If you only watch one TV movie this year about California’s notorious parricidal siblings, let this two-parter be the one.

It’s not just the extra length that makes this preferable to Fox’s recent two-hour treatise on the subject. This film is far more dramatic, better directed (by Emmy winner Larry Elikann) and more psychologically acute (note, for instance, the way Lyle assumes his father’s persona after murdering him. Shades of Norman Bates!). This re-creation is also better acted. (The only exception: as Lyle, I preferred Fox’s Billy Warlock to CBS’s Damian Chapa.) Edward James Olmos is outstanding as Jose Menendez, the driven, demanding father, who spits at both his sons at one time or another, “You disgust me!”

For all Jose’s stultifying domination of his family, there is no sign of sexual abuse suggested until the boys raise it calculatedly as part of their defense at the murder trial. The strong inference in this movie, which concludes on Tuesday, is that Lyle and Erik have thus far got away with murder. Travis Fine plays Erik; Beverly D’Angelo plays Kitty Menendez. The supporting cast includes Michael Woolson, Michelle Johnson, Dwight Schultz and Margaret Whitton.

Essentially, the CBS project puts a good deal more paint on the canvas than did Fox’s. The resultant portrait is still of a deranged family. But the additional detail makes this version at once repulsive and fascinating. Olmos’s absence from the second night, though, creates a considerable vacuum.

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