The Peo­ple V o.j. Simp­son: amer­i­can crime Story

trial of the cen­tury

Empire (UK) - - REVIEW - HE­LEN O’HARA

As sub­jects for drama go, the trial of o. j. simp­son suf­fers one huge draw­back: it’s flatly un­be­liev­able. from the bronco chase to the, “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must ac­quit,” catch­phrase to the shock verdict, it was over­cooked, hys­ter­i­cal stuff — as was its media coverage. Yet from such sen­sa­tional ma­te­rial showrun­ners scott Alexan­der and Larry Karaszewski have crafted a re­mark­ably nu­anced drama, a series with a huge amount to say about to­day, as well as Los An­ge­les in the mid-1990s. Here’s a case that might ex­plain why celebri­ties seem to get away with, well, mur­der; here’s an ori­gin story for re­al­ity tv as a whole and its most no­to­ri­ous clan in par­tic­u­lar; here’s a pre­cur­sor to the racism and un­rest that has emerged again in the us in re­cent years.

As most peo­ple over the age of about 25 will know, in 1994, NFL star-turnedac­tor simp­son (cuba Good­ing jr.) was ar­rested for the mur­der of his ex-wife, Ni­cole brown simp­son, and her friend, ron­ald Gold­man. Prose­cu­tor Mar­cia clark (sarah Paul­son) thought she had an open-and-shut case that would bring glory to the District At­tor­ney’s of­fice. but then o. j.’s le­gal ‘dream team’ took shape, among them his friend robert Kar­dashian (David sch­wim­mer), celebrity spe­cial­ist robert shapiro (john tra­volta), show­man cru­sader john­nie cochran (court­ney b. Vance) and crim­i­nal de­fence leg­end f. Lee bai­ley (Nathan Lane).

What fol­lows is a mas­ter­class in how jus­tice can be bam­boo­zled by hu­man fail­ings. the pas­sion­ate clark — strug­gling

with her own child cus­tody bat­tle — finds her­self out­gunned and out­ma­noeu­vred, as key wit­nesses prove un­re­li­able un­der the glare of media pres­sure and the jury is swayed by emo­tional ap­peals. Her only re­li­able ally is her sym­pa­thetic co-coun­sel Christo­pher Dar­den (Ster­ling K. Brown), a stand­out in a cast of stand­outs and one of the few cleareyed char­ac­ters caught in the trial.

It’s the ad­di­tion of the cru­sad­ing Cochrane to Simp­son’s team that re­ally de­rails Clark’s process. A man de­ter­mined to use the trial’s huge media pro­file to fur­ther his cause, Cochrane has his eye on wider in­jus­tices when he takes on the Simp­son case, which makes his ef­forts some­what con­tra­dic­tory. He’s so keen to con­vict the LAPD fol­low­ing the out­rage of their ac­quit­tal in the Rod­ney King trial two years ear­lier that he serves jus­tice poorly in the lengths to which he goes to se­cure Simp­son’s free­dom. Did the big­ger is­sues of race and po­lice cor­rup­tion ob­scure the fates of Ni­cole and Ron­ald? Ev­ery scene in­volv­ing the an­gry, un­re­li­able Simp­son sug­gests they may have done — and Vance’s al­ter­nat­ingly sub­tle and show­boat­ing per­for­mance sug­gests that Cochrane knew it.

For all the flashi­ness of its crash zooms and split-screens, this is a drama that’s been mapped out with great care. It’s cal­i­brated to en­ter­tain those who stu­diously fol­lowed the case as well as obliv­i­ous new­com­ers. The early episodes draw you in with the farce of Simp­son’s pre-ar­rest be­hav­iour, via the per­ma­nently wor­ried ex­pres­sion of Sch­wim­mer’s Kar­dashian and the back­ground role of his soon-to-be-fa­mous kids, but the show grows more fo­cused and som­bre with each scene, build­ing to­wards its mov­ing fi­nale.

It doesn’t hit you over the head with its mes­sages; it doesn’t have to. The char­ac­ters are hy­per-aware of ev­ery nu­ance of their de­ci­sions; any wider mean­ing flows or­gan­i­cally from their con­ver­sa­tions. The only per­son who seems un­aware of the deeper is­sues is O. J. him­self — per­haps un­der­stand­ably given he stands at the eye of the storm, but per­haps, too, be­cause his in­te­rior life re­mains shad­owy and dark.

But if the sub­text pro­vides last­ing food for thought, the show’s most ob­vi­ous gift is its en­sem­ble. It’s a com­bi­na­tion of great cast and pow­er­ful ma­te­rial that, like

Hamil­ton on Broad­way, has the po­ten­tial to change the way you see his­tory, and pro­vide a win­dow onto our own world. How did O. J. get off, and what does it say about us that it’s easy to imag­ine it hap­pen­ing again?

O. j. Simp­son (Cuba Good­ing jr., cen­tre) flanked by key mem­bers of his ‘dream team’. “If it doesn’t fit...” Prose­cu­tor Chris Dar­den (Ster­ling K. Brown) eyes Simp­son as he tries on the in­fa­mous gloves.

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