The 1994 O.J. Simpson trial was heralded as one of the biggest cases in American history. O.J. Simpson, a once all-time great athlete turned small-time movie player, was at the center of a graphic murder trial whose victims were Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and a young man, Ronald Goldman. The fame of Mr. Simpson mounted and heightened this crime from an average murder in the American splendor community of Brentwood, California to a full on eruption of high octane drama. The court case was televised. The alleged murderer and victims were well known. The racial landscape was rife with tension and anger. Ultimately, the curiosity and chaos that was lathered by constant tabloid fodder and primetime daily broadcasts turned the public obsession with this case from addiction to a fueled epidemic.
When the network FX chose to retell this twenty-two year old story through the series “American Crime Story: the People v. O.J. Simpson, they were not only shedding a descriptive light on the trial but bridging generations. The devout viewers of the series range from people who can recall the trial, individuals who were old enough to succumb to the media hype and conspiracy, and a mass amount of viewers who were either too young or nonexistent when the trial commenced in 1994. The younger or millennial generation, simply know O.J. Simpson as a person who many believe murdered his wife and got away with it. The trial exists to this group only in flashes; the oracle retelling by older generations of white Ford Broncos, unfit gloves, or nothing at all. The show therefore had two jobs; to give the older and informed a new way to view the trial and to give the uniformed younger generation the facts of a story that was unknown to them. Based off the show’s successful ratings, FX has harnessed the emotion of the moment and captivated people from all ages. The same sensationalized pillars that ensnared America decades ago are mesmerizing the masses of today.
The network’s formula for success is clear. The series embraces the full story and narratives that surrounded the case. The show displays the timeline of events but also the various intersectional plots that muddled the trial at the time. The series relationally displays the trial, that was so passionately heightened for some and distant folklore for others, by relying heavily on its key players. Each viewer is engrossed with the case, O.J. Simpson’s intent, the bevy of lawyers, and the community at the time. The show takes the names spectators knew; Marcia Clark, Christopher Darden, Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro, Nicole Brown Simpson, and O.J. Simpson and makes them tangible and fleshed out people. The series’ cast; Marcia Clark played by Sarah Paulson, Johnnie Cochran played by Courtney B. Vance, Robert Shaprio played by John Travolta, is extremely talented and brilliant . These actors breathe life into the people who were analyzed and displayed for public commentary and consumption. The viewers see these individuals’ family lives, their internal struggles, and strife that marred them outside of the professional circus that was the case. The audience sees not just the charismatic attorney but the racially begrudged black man. They see the polarizing prosecutor and her domestic hardships. The show gives a personal complexion to these complex characters.
The broadcast drums up the frantic fantasy that vibrated through society at the time. The series is masterful because it dictates and recounts events that are already known and makes them refreshing and current. The new public obsession with the case proves that this trial’s intrigue wasn’t just fleeting or temporary. O.J. Simpson has the masses pinned to their televisions screens just like he did years ago. The trial is not just the case of decades past but the story of a lifetime.