Is it possible an iconic celebrity being accused of murder? What happens when the evidence appears to be against them? Can the odds be swayed in their favor? Will the verdict be what many expect it to be? That’s many of the questions asked in the new FX show “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson,” which involved many of the players on the defense and prosecution tables as it demonstrated what it took to get to the shocking murder trial. Sure, the story has lived in public infamy since it happened nearly 22 years ago, but the show tries to tell the story through a different angle to give viewers a different level of understanding of what went on behind the scenes. Was the show entirely accurate? The results have been mixed in that regards, but it’s the performances that mostly make the show worth tuning in for.
“American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson” followed O.J. Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) who was known in 1994 as an iconic former football players and actor. He was a father, a friend and a very important figure to the Brentwood community. That all changed in an instant when his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman were murdered one night. While getting over the shock of the crime, O.J. becomes the prime suspect because of his bitter divorce that included domestic violence. O.J.’s long time friend Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer) convinces him to hire Robert Shapiro (John Travolta) to be his lawyer, but things don’t go according to plan with Simpson fleeing just before the LAPD came to arrest him. It led to a car chase that was broadcast everywhere, which also led to additional evidence against Simpson. Prosecutors Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) and Bill Hodgman (Christian Clemenson) believed that they had a slam dunk case that would lead to a murder conviction, and justice for the victims. Unfortunately, they didn’t take into account the power of celebrity and what it truly takes to win a high profile murder case. O.J.’s defense team had four main lawyers working to get him out of jail. Kardashian was the attorney who provided moral support and context to various versions of the truth. Shapiro recruited his old friend and colleague F. Lee Bailey (Nathan Lane) for the case to find himself in the spotlight. What Bailey didn’t realize was that he wouldn’t get much of a chance to shine in the courtroom, but he got his ultimate revenge on Shapiro later. When Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) joined the defense team, the tides seemed to turn against Shapiro and he was put more in the foreground by the time the trial truly started. What the defense didn’t expect was to see Cochran’s friend Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown) sitting at the prosecutor table as Clark’s third chair on the case. Will Darden’s presence be enough to help or hinder the prosecution in the end?
In terms of questions, the biggest one involved how was Simpson able to be found not guilty when the odds seemed to be not in his favor so early on. Was the defense lucky or was the Simpson murder case just a side effect of the time period when the LAPD seemed to held in very low regard? As the show has pointed out in the first four episodes, it was all of the above in some ways. The media played a part in making the waters murky enough when the trial started, but it was also how the defense was able to create just the right level of reasonable doubt that made the shocking not guilty verdict possible. As for the overall execution of the show, the episodes have provided some crucial moments of drama to keep viewers glued to their television sets, even though everyone already knows the outcome. Sure, there are times where it appeared evident that certain scenes were dramatized for greater effect, because certain players are no longer able to talk about them and the overall sense of a particular moment or two. Certain scenes that involved Vance’s Cochran and Gooding’s O.J. having private conversations were very interesting to watch, but viewers will never truly known what was said between the two men since one of them is dead and the other won’t be talking about it anytime soon. There were also a few casting glitches in an otherwise spot on effort to flesh out the players. Travolta’s Shapiro seemed to be completely out of place on the show because his character was presented as someone eager to make an impression at all costs, while some fared better by playing it a little more subtly; such as Lane’s Bailey who wily plotted to stab his friend in the back professionally. Travolta seemed to be trying too hard in a few of the earlier episodes. He should take a page out of Vance’s or Lane’s acting playbook by showing that less was sometimes more. Even though Gooding delivered a strong performance, he seemed to have been an unlikely choice to play Simpson based on the fact that there was no physical resemblance in any way between the two men. The producers must have thought that it was better to cast Simpson’s role based on what the person could bring to the table acting wise, which was the right call since this was one of Gooding’s better performances in a long time, especially in his scenes with Vance’s Cochran.
As for breakout performances, there were a few memorable ones that have stood out so far that involved Paulson, Brown, Schwimmer, and Vance for various reasons. Paulson’s hard charging Clark was eager to make Simpson pay for his crimes, but she was unprepared for the impact that the media would have on once sterling case. She presented Clark as a tough talking attorney working in a man’s world and being a single mother to two boys of her own when she left her often stressful job. Paulson gave Clark a sense of humor and grit as she was eager to fight O.J.’s legal dream team in court tooth and nail. She had a comfortable rapport with Brown’s moralistic Darden who believed in justice, despite the fact that the system was completely flawed. Brown’s Darden and Paulson’s Clark were good work colleague friends that were comfortable working with each other, even in the most challenging of cases. Paulson presented Clark’s strongest moments when she silently pondered the events that went on around her or with a simple one liner or two that brought everything home. Brown’s Darden probably has the least flashy role on the show, but he still make it memorable all the same since he was a regular lawyer thrown into a media circus that altered his life for better or worse. Schwimmer’s Kardashian was probably the biggest surprise for various reasons that involved that Schwimmer was mostly known for his comedic work rather than his dramatic roles. He presented Kardashian as a man of moral integrity who believed in respect and loyalty above anything else. Schwimmer had a strong scene with the kids who his character’s onscreen children that explained that fame wasn’t the root to all happiness and even foreshadowed his three daughters’ legacy into reality television fame. Sure, the scene could’ve been dramatized, but Schwimmer made it worth watching nonetheless. The show’s most challenging role involved making Vance’s Cochran more than a trial catchphrase and fleshed him out into more realistic character that involved flash and compassion for black men everywhere. Vance managed to make his version of Cochran a force to be reckoned with, especially in his legal scenes. Future episodes will likely have some strong verbal duals between Paulson, Vance and Brown as the season progressed. Only time will tell if that’s the case.
“American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson” premiered on February 2nd and airs Tuesdays at 10:00 pm on FX.
Verdict: Paulson and Schwimmer are among the many standout players in the show, even though there were a few casting flaws that were hard to overlook in a couple of cases.
TV Score: 4 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)