FX’s American Crime Story: People v O.J. Simpson delivers a stellar inaugural season. American Crime Story sets itself apart from other crime anthology dramas such as FX’s Fargo and HBO’s True Detective in how it’s centered on a real-life event. It’s an absorbing dissection of the many different layers and players of a moment in America’s history. Based on the book “The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson” by author Jeffrey Toobin, American Crime Story goes beyond the legal drama and has its pulse on the heart of why the O.J. Simpson trial shaped its generation and the era which we live in now.
Dubbed the trial of the century, former American football star turned actor O.J. Simpson was tried for the 1994 brutal double murder of his ex-wife Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman. Amidst the many stranger than fiction turn of events, People v. O.J. Simpson (PvOJ) doesn’t lose sight that the true victims are Nicole Simpson, Ron Goldman and their families. At the same time, PvOJ takes a thoughtful approach in how O.J. Simpson played by actor Cuba Gooding Jr. is portrayed. Simpson is central to the story but he’s not the star of the show. He’s neither glorified nor sympathized. He is a very flawed, troubled man and is shown at his lowest points including contemplating suicide. PvOJ doesn’t directly incriminate Simpson, the mountain of evidence is put forth to the audience to make their own decision.
Whether O.J. Simpson is proven innocent or guilty is not the end goal of the show. Against the backdrop of the Rodney King beating in 1991 which the police officers were acquitted of excessive force on the African American driver and the Los Angeles riots in 1992, the Simpson trial brings to light highly charged concerns about racism in law enforcement and the justice system. PvOJ is a well written examination on how race shaped the trial in many ways and ultimately influenced the verdict. What’s fascinating is how a trial of one man evoked much larger issues which resonates outside of the courtroom to this day.
When we think about the aspects which pervade our current era from the cult of celebrity to the state of media coverage, you can look at the O.J. Simpson trial as this cultural crossroad. There’s a razor-sharp irony when O.J’s friend Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer) tells his soon-to-be famous offspring that fame is hollow. PvOJ isn’t a boring courtroom drama either, many episodes tackle a particular issue through a character driven perspective. One of the strongest episodes focuses on the sexist attitudes aimed at prosecutor Marcia Clark both in the public eye and within the court room as a single mother balancing her career and home life.
PvOJ does a commendable job at presenting the complicated, interpersonal dynamics between these real-life people. One of the most compelling dynamics is between Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) and fellow prosecutor Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown). As their relationship evolves, it is put to the test inside and outside the courtroom. Both are shown to be very capable at what they do and are fierce believers in justice, but are unprepared in the court of public opinion and make huge mistakes. On the other hand is the fast thinking, brilliant defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran. He’s highly manipulative of the media, stages well-timed flashy antics and superb at playing mind games with his opposition. The excellent screenplay examines Cochran’s pivotal role in the O.J. Simpson trial and how he champions African-American rights. Like Paulson, actor Courtney B. Vance is a standout among a great cast and his performance as Cochran is Emmy award worthy.
How PvOJ plays to viewers who are familiar with the trial and to those not previously aware of the many persons and events could play a factor in the amount of enjoyment the show offers. But if PvOJ has minor weakness, it may have to do with the choices on what and who to focus on in a limited ten episode season. While Robert Kardashian’s family only has a minor presence, they aren’t necessary to be in the show and likely included because they are now famous. Conversely, it could have been interesting to see an insider’s perspective of Judge Lance Ito (Kenneth Choi) but because he’s the only major player to not write a book on the trial there might not be enough compelling material or a fresh angle to present. In a ten-hour run time, there is a lot of ground covered but also there are likely large elements of the trial that wouldn’t have made the cut.
First and foremost, People v O.J. Simpson is a thoroughly entertaining drama. In what appears to be an open and shut murder case, the trial takes many unexpected twist and turns. The trial itself was highly publicized in its day, but PvOJ finds it’s purpose in revealing the untold stories behind the scenes. PvOJ is extremely good at examining the day-to-day drama in a fresh, compelling manner and also reflects on the larger issues like race and gender discrimination told through the many fascinating characters involved. The verdict? People v O.J. Simpson is a strongly recommended watch whether you know the story or not.
What do you think about American Crime Story: People v O.J. Simpson? Who do you think deserves an Emmy?