When I learned at a new FX series, “American Crime Story” was going to focus on the O.J. Simpson trial with a season title of “The People vs. O.J. Simpson“, I was immediately intrigued. I was intrigued because of the trainwreck potential, I was intrigued because of the historical aspect, and I was intrigued because I had actually read the book by Jeffrey Toobin that formed the basis of the show.
I told multiple people, “I plan on watching the hell out of this show”. I meant it.
It was the summer between my 6th and 7th grade year when the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman took place. I remember catching the news in between daytime viewings of MTV and whatever reruns were on during June of 1994. I remember coming home from a family dinner out one Friday night to see the Bronco chase happening. It was wild stuff.
When the trial took place, I remember the more intriguing and absurd aspects. I remember the hubbub around Rosa Lopez, the continual sidebars, and the grandstanding by the defense team.
I did not, however, watch the verdict live. I was in 8th grade at that time, and we didn’t have the television on in the classroom. The class across the hall did, however, and one of the teachers came out and told us what happened. “They found him not guilty” is what she said. We all kind of gasped but went about whatever we were doing.
That being said, I still contend that if you watched the verdict live during school, it wasn’t for some grand historical aspect. No, you watched it because the teacher wanted to watch it, and they had to come up with some excuse to justify it.
Anyways, I say all that to give you an idea of how I remember the trial in relation to what “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” presented during its 10 episode run. For the most part, the series was spot on in terms of detail, visual style, and even music. The soundtrack was nothing but mid 90’s gold. It put me back in that middle school frame of mind.
Like a lot of people, I was expecting to watch this show ironically, especially considering some of the casting choices, which we’ll get to in a moment. The first few episodes, which dealt with the introduction of all the characters, the establishment of the racial elements in mid 90’s Los Angeles, the actual murders, and the Bronco chase, were a bit over the top.
Hell, let’s not even get into the shoehorned involvement of the younger Kardashians in those early episodes.
Once the show got past all of that, though, and got into the actual courtroom dynamics, the series took a turn for the better. I’m not saying the Bronco Chase episode was bad because it wasn’t. It was fascinating to watch. Still, the real meat of the show came when the trial and all its absurdities were put on display.
The show did well in establishing the basic strategy of the defense’s case was obstruction. They planned on challenging every little thing the prosecution attempted and, for the most part, they were successful because man, oh man, did the prosecution botch this case.
Seriously… this show goes above and beyond at showing how bad the prosecution botched this case and how the defense took every advantage of it.
This aspect was helped largely by the amazing cast in this series. Sarah Paulson was magnificent as Marcia Clark, someone who had way too much on her plate but still had to deal with things. The interactions with Sterling K. Brown’s Christopher Darden were also something to behold because, well, I had never picked up on the fact the two could have had a relationship brewing during the trial. The series went heavy in that regard.
Their chief adversary across the aisle, Courtney B. Vance’s Johnnie Cochran, was equally fabulous. He did wonders in showcasing what a complex character Cochran was, inside and outside of the courtroom. He was a man full of confidence in the courtroom and in front of a jury, but he was one full of doubts and conflicts out of it.
Then there was Cuba Gooding Jr.’s bizarre but hilarious portrayal of O.J. Simpson as someone completely disconnected from reality. David Schwimmer’s turn as Robert Kardashian, one of Simpon’s biggest enablers due to his repeated uttering of the nickname “Juice”, was great to watch as he came around to realizing Simpson probably did do the murders.
Nathan Lane as F. Lee Bailey provided a lot of the intentional and unintentional comic relief because, well, that’s what Bailey was when you really think about it.
I throw out all these characters, and I haven’t even touched on the rest of the supporting cast, which was incredibly strong. I haven’t done that because I wanted to take a moment to talk about the real bonkers performance in this show.
John Travolta as Robert Shapiro. What a role and performance this was.
Back in the late 90’s, Travolta was on Saturday Night Live and portrayed Dracula in a sketch. The joke was that everyone knew Dracula was gay, but Dracula was in denial. It, of course, was a play on rumors that have been around Travolta for years.
Anyways, the reason I’m bringing this up is that Travolta played Shapiro a lot like he played Dracula in that sketch. His performance in the show was so over the top and comically theatrical right from the start. It only got better when the series showed how Shaprio got bumped from being the lead attorney and his subsequent clashes with Cochran and the rest of the “Dream Team”.
Seriously, Travolta needs to win some type of an award for what he did on this show. It doesn’t have to be an Emmy but, man, give him a statue for going where he did with the Shapiro character.
Going back to the show at large, the series went out with a bang last night in an episode that detailed the verdict and reactions to it. The attention to detail, right down the stutter by the woman who read the verdict, was flawless. The tension the episode built, even as everyone knew what was going to happen, was also flawless. It was a great bit of television.
I was curious what they were going to show after the verdict was read. I thought for a moment they’d shoehorn in the civil trial, which Simpson lost, but they instead went with sequences showing how Simpson was free but became a pariah among his Brentwood peers.
It was a great touch, especially considering the show did a significant bit of work establishing how that really was Simpson’s life in relation to what the defense team portrayed during the trial.
I could go on for quite a bit more about this series, but it’d be best for you to search it out and make your own conclusions. FX should have the full series on-demand soon, if not already. It’s 10 episodes, and they do a pretty great job in showcasing what “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” really was like inside the courtroom and outside of it.