Having chopped up the ratings with a 2014 movie, Lifetime shrewdly returns to the scene of the crime with “The Lizzie Borden Chronicles,” an eight-episode limited series whose success seems virtually assured on the strength of those blood-soaked billboards alone. Christina Ricci reprises her role as the notorious parent-slayer who became the subject of a children’s rhyme, now dealing with the aftermath of having been exonerated while still finding, ahem, permanent solutions to the impediments life throws her way. Joining series like “Hannibal” and “Bates Motel,” also built around antiheroes, “Lizzie” somewhat dubiously gives female psychopaths equal time.
Like the movie, the series derives some of its kick from the period, while giving Ricci a chance to play a role uniquely suited to those great big eyes of hers, offering the audience a chance to see what Wednesday Adams would look (and probably act) like all grown up.
Picking up four months after the trial in 1893, these “Chronicles” find Lizzie and her doting sister Emma (Clea DuVall) trying to move on, which begins with securing the estate that she worked up such a sweat trying to inherit. Seemingly determined to carve the point into the audience’s skin, the producers keep replaying the murders as if Ricci, as star and executive producer, were being paid for each swing of the ax.
In the early going, Lizzie is challenged by her father’s former business partner (John Heard) and her half-brother (Andrew Howard), both of whom stand in her way. There’s also the little matter of a Pinkerton detective (Cole Hauser) who has arrived in town, and taken an interest in Lizzie’s case for reasons unknown, much to the chagrin of the local constables.
The series has a good deal of fun with what such notoriety might have been like in the late-19th century, with children jumping rope to Lizzie’s name, and all the locals casting sideways glances at her in church. Really, though, it’s all an excuse to do a gothic-style tale while setting up a cat-and-mouse game pitting the detective against the sweetly smiling Lizzie, who, as played by Ricci, mixes her homicidal tendencies with a hint of seduction.
FX has clearly found an audience for such fare with the “American Horror Story” franchise, and the promise of a limited run — as opposed to trying to drag this out beyond its expiration date — makes “The Lizzie Borden Chronicles” all the more appealing.
Granted, this might not be the most elevated fare in Lifetime’s lineup. But based on reaction to the movie and the prospect of reuniting a star with such a promotable concept, it’s hard to fault the network for taking another whack at it.