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USA TODAY

Law & Order is a television institution that has been on the air since 1990, and the franchise, including multiple spinoffs, has always proudly adhered to a tried-and-true format. The design, the storytelling beats, the righteous detectives, crusading attorneys and, of course, the clanging sound effect — “DUN-dun” —  are always there, no matter the crime of the week or the series subtitle. That is, until now.  

NBC’s latest incarnation,Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders (Tuesday, 10 ET/PT, ** ½ out of four), marks a departure that grafts the trappings of the series onto an anthology format (a new case would follow in a second season) and a true story without its ripped-from-the-headlines twist. Created by longtime writer René Balcer, it’s a bold step in the evolution of Law & Order that sort of works.

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True Crime is an eight-part miniseries that retells the infamous story of Lyle and Erik Menendez (Miles Gaston Villanueva and Gus Halper), brothers who were convicted of the 1989 murders of their wealthy parents. Because the guilt of the subjects is known, the series is more interested in the trial than the investigation, and focuses on the defense, led by Edie Falco as lawyer Leslie Abramson.

It’s hard not to feel like True Crime is a less-engaging knockoff of FX’s critically acclaimed 2016 series The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, which featured Sarah Paulson in a lead role as prosecutor Marcia Clark, and similarities in subject matter, time period and structure are difficult to ignore.

What’s instantly apparent and unique to True Crime is its sympathetic point of view toward the brothers, who are given ample screen time for their side of the story. But like O.J., it paints a female attorney with a comically terrible perm as its hero. And it works here as well — Falco imbues every scene with her magnetism. 

Falco, who starred in The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie, seems to delight in near-constant scenery chewing as the defense attorney with a soft spot for her…