TV REVIEW: American Crime Story – The People vs OJ Simpson

A friend of mine who is really into true crime series recommended this to me knowing that I am a fan of American Horror Story. American Crime Story shares the same producers and follows a similar anthology format, although this time each season dramatises and particular very public criminal case. In this case, the murder trial of O.J. Simpson.

I think most are fairly familiar with the O.J. Simpson trial… but just in case, O.J. Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jnr) is a once very celebrated extremely famous American football player, TV presenter and actor who was accused of murdering his ex-wife Nicole and her friend, Ron Goldman. The case was extremely high profile and turned into a media circus and ran for months and months.

The series does not really speculate whether or not O.J. was guilty but is more interested in the legal process that the case went through. It focuses equally on the prosecution, lead by Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) as it does the defence, initially mounted by Robert Shapiro (John Travolta). While the defence believes that a mountain of physical evidence is likely to guarantee them victory, the prosecution puts its energy into bringing in a high profile team including Johnny Cochrane (Courtney B. Vance) and exploiting every possible legal loophole.

Race plays a huge part in the trial with the still simmering tensions of the L.A. riots in the background as well as serious concerns about LAPD behaviour. It touches every element of the case from the selection of jurors to the selection of theΒ defence and prosecution teams, witness behaviour and public perceptions. There is also an examination into Marcia’s struggles as a female prosecutor in a very powerfully male world alongside her challenges of balancing work with family. There is even some examination into O.J.’s own feelings about his “blackness” and his attempts to integrate himself into typically “white” spaces before the trial.

While the case is central to the show, it is as much commentary on American society and in particular its legal system, which is what makes it fascinating.

Gooding gives an astounding performance as a man who is an endless array of juxtapositions, seemingly equally confused and cunning at all times. Paulson is solid and sympathetic as the powerful yet vulnerable Marcia Clark and Sterling Brown brings really heart as her co-prosecutor Chris Darden. Some of the most interesting parts of the series involve their interactions with each other. Vance captures the ministerial Vance perfectly and Travolta is delightfully slimy as Shapiro. It’s also worth mentioning David Schwimmer who plays Robert Kardashian (yes, that one), O.J.’s lifelong friend who starts out convinced of his innocence but finds his belief in his friend crumbling around him.

I found it to be addictive and disturbing viewing and I would highly recommend the series to anyone who enjoys true crime and legal procedurals.

4/5

9 Comments

  1. I’d have given it 5 stars but otherwise love your take on it. Just a brilliant show and you were right in that it was a perfect storm in when it occurred and the wider issues it touched upon. Vance was my favourite performance. One of the best acting performances I’ve ever seen on a TV show.

    1. You are right about the perfect storm. I think in a different political and social climate it might have been a very different result.

  2. I can remember the saturation coverage of this at the time, and that put me off even considering this series. Having watched it unravel as real events, I wonder if this would be worth me watching? But for anyone who didn’t follow it closely, I can imagine it being a fascinating slice of history.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. I was a little young to really get sucked into the media coverage when it happened so although I knew some basic facts a lot of it was new to me. It’s very interesting from the perspective of how the trial affected the legal teams, jurors, families etc.

  3. I’m not a true crime fan and didn’t watch the show, but I followed the entire trial when it was actually happening. I’ve been an American football fan since I was a kid, so the story fascinated me. I watched in utter shock, in real time, when OJ cut and run in his Bronco SUV. It was really the story of the 20th century here in the U.S., because OJ was extremely well-loved before this took place. I know exactly where I was and what I was doing the day they read the verdict.

    1. I was a bit young when it happened and it was quite far away from us. It really is a kind of crazy story and you can see why it captured people.

  4. I really hope I soon find the time to watch this show. It’s sounds so interesting and you review is giving me the final nudge!

    1. It’s so much more than just an examination of the crime. I think you’ll really enjoy it.

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