The People V o.j. Simpson: american crime Story
trial of the century
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.