There's no denying that the 90s appear to be dominating pop culture again lately, but it's not just all the chokers and brown lipstick. The same true crime stories that once grabbed and held the interest of millions are now being rediscovered and dissected down to the tiniest detail all over again. First the O.J. Simpson trial was treated to both an Emmy Award-winning fictionalized series and an acclaimed documentary series; then the murder of JonBenét Ramsey saw a rash of investigative television specials. Now another case is re-entering the public sphere. The trailer for Truth and Lies: The Menéndez Brothers tells yet another true crime story from decades gone by.
If you're unfamiliar with the story, here's what happened: in 1989, Lyle and Erik Menéndez, aged 21 and 18 respectively, shot their parents to death in their Beverly Hills mansion. It was originally speculated that the deaths may have been a mob hit, but the brothers were eventually apprehended. According to them, they had suffered intense abuse as their parents' hands over the years. It took several trials and deadlocked juries to convict them in the early 90s, but they are both still serving time for the murders of their parents.
It was a case that came before both Simpson's trial and Ramsey's murder, but it has many of the same qualities that fascinated the public in both of those subsequent cases: the extreme wealth, the inexplicable violence, and the intense media scrutiny. The difference is that this case has a definitive conclusion.
The trailer for the ABC documentary Truth and Lies: The Menéndez Brothers, which airs on January 5, promises never-before-seen video and photos, as well as interviews with those closest to the case and with Lyle Menéndez himself. It claims it will "uncover the hidden clues of the Menéndez family's descent into hell" and "profile the intimate details of the Menéndez family, including Erik's secret life." If you think a lot of those words would be right at home on the cover of a tabloid, you're not wrong; the entire tone of the trailer is uncomfortable, and the music is particularly off-putting considering the subject matter. Throwing some sweet rock'n'roll tunes on top of the story of a double homicide creates cognitive dissonance in the viewer. It's simply not appropriate.
While revisiting the Simpson case brought new understanding and insight into the factors that shaped its outcome, it seems like every new attempt to dig into a shocking crime from the 90s gets father away from thoughtful cultural discussion and closer to salacious entertainment. That's something that's worth exploring in the original cases as well; the Menéndez brothers got attention for their lavish lifestyles and the flagrant way they spent their deceased parents' money. Their trials were shown on television, captivating viewers and beginning to dull the line between honest reporting and pure entertainment.
But treating the murder of two people like a new and exciting story with plot twists waiting to be uncovered – treating it like fiction when it's anything but – is at best disrespectful to those involved and at worst severely lacking in empathy. Audiences will have to wait until January to see if the documentary itself is in line with the tone of its trailer, or if it rises above it.