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Episodes: Five crimes that should become American Crime Stories


Emily VanDerWerff

Oct 21 2016

5 min read



With the rumor that the third season of American Crime Story will focus on the murder of Gianni Versace taking flight this week, it's becoming clearer and clearer what FX and the series' producers think the series is. Where the rest of TV has followed The People vs. O.J. Simpson by resurrecting many of the other major tabloid crimes of the 1990s, FX has pursued, instead, the way People vs. O.J. leaned into the way the Simpson trial exposed America's tricky intersections between race and class and gender.

Season two of the show, about Hurricane Katrina, will apparently expand the definition of "crime" to its breaking point (in that it will essentially just be how you might say, "Oh, it was a crime what happened to them!"), while the Versace season will almost certainly focus much more on the days leading up to Versace's murder, since the man who killed him committed suicide before he could be apprehended and put on trial.

But what these two seasons have in spades is that political material that became the kicky core of O.J. I probably don't need to tell you how a Katrina season could dig into the US's struggles with race and class, but the Versace season should similarly have plenty of things to say about sexuality, class, and maybe even the immigrant experience.

Thus, American Crime Story seasons don't just need to have a true crime element. They also have to have some degree of political interest. And that's going to be trickier for the show to consistently find.

Fortunately, I've found five stories that should fit the bill nicely. And none of them is Charles Manson, a crime that is probably inevitable for the show to cover, but one that has been done to death.

The Bill Clinton impeachment trial: C'mon. You know this one is basically inevitable. If you're like me, you've accepted the inevitability of Sarah Paulson playing Hillary Clinton and started fan-casting the rest of the roles in your head. What do you think about Garret Dillahunt for Bill? I kinda like it myself.

The Lindbergh baby abduction and murder: At first glance, this doesn't have a ton of overlap with the political stuff, but I think ACS should dig into period at some point, and this was the original Trial of the Century. And the more you look, the more there is to examine here, from Lindbergh's basically fascist leanings (admittedly after his baby was taken and killed) to the man who was convicted of the crime, Bruno Hauptmann, being a German immigrant. There's plenty to unpack here -- and that's before you get to the conspiracy theories that would inevitably pop up on the show.

The Dakota War of 1862 and all that followed: The largest mass execution in United States history happened in 1862 in Mankato, Minnesota, and basically nobody talks about it. (It was carried out under the auspices of Abraham Lincoln, no less.) After a series of treaty violations by the US government, the Dakota started carrying out raids and attacks on settlers in Minnesota. In the middle of the Civil War, the US didn't really want to deal with this, so the uprising was put down swiftly and bloodily, and hundreds were executed afterward. This would be a way for the series to deal with America's other original sin, the one we talk about even less than slavery, and in the right hands, it could be really powerful.

The Doodler: In the late '70s, a serial killer preyed on the San Francisco gay community. He is suspected of killing 14 men, and even though the police had a suspect, they couldn't find a way to make the charges stick because the witnesses who could testify refused to testify due to not wanting to out themselves. No less than Harvey Milk said he sympathized with those who wouldn't testify. This is a lesser known case, but if ACS is going to do a serial killer season (and you know it is), then this one could offer the chance to talk about the lives of gay men before our recent advances in LGBT rights. As with O.J., the crime is really a prism to talk about major issues. (Hurting this story is the lack of original sources to draw upon.)

Watergate: I dunno that I really want to see Ryan Murphy's version of this story, but I do kinda want to see Denis O'Hare play Richard Nixon, now that I think about it. Let's pencil this one in for season seven.


Episodes is published three-ish times per week, and more if I feel like it. It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox Dot Com.

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