More than twenty years ago, an event that shattered the country occurred in Los Angeles when O.J. Simpson was accused of murdering his ex-wife and her current lover. From a slow motion chase from LA to Brentwood to one of the most messy trials in the history of jurisprudence covered from gavel to gavel to a verdict that was as divisive as the trial, the world was obsessed with O.J. and all the players involved until it practically became a punch line. Now, twenty-two years after the crime, you’d think that everything possible that could’ve been said amount the crime has been done to death.
Or so you’d think. From the most unlikely of sources, Ryan Murphy, FX has now launched a 10-part miniseries that will deal with a single crime from beginning to end. But anyone who thinks that the master of overkill who has manufactured “American Horror Story” and “Scream Queens” will be stunned by what has been produced in “The People Vs. O.J. Simpson.” The first three episodes have been renowned for their subtlety delivering the story of events that began the “Trial of the Century” Simpson (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) is portrayed as a messy, barely literate, easily confused man who seems more emotional than anybody else.After the murder has been discovered, we find ourselves slowly meeting the men and women who will be the players in the event. Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson, underplaying everything to its advantage) is a sharp, vital attorney, who nevertheless has a striking naievete in that she believes the evidence will be a slam dunk for the prosecution, especially after the infamous chase down the highway. Robert Shapiro (John Travolta, demonstrating for the first time in awhile what a masterful actor he is) takes over the defense of Simpson, but seems to be more interested in preserving his reputation than serving his client. Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance, at the top of his game) observes the early proceedings with detachment, feeling more inclined to see the case as “a loser” and not wanting anything to do with it – until he’s asked to join “The Dream Team” Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown) also seems detached from the proceedings, inclined to think O.J. is nowhere near the hero – he memorably tells his neighbors, “when he got rich, he turned white.” “Well,” his neighbors counter “the police are chasing him. He’s black now.”
FX again demonstrates why it is the best source for television on all of basic cable. It has assembled one of the best casts imaginable – in addition to all the actors listed so far, Christian Clemenson and Bruce Greenwood play key members of the prosecution, Nathan Lane takes up the role of F. Lee Bailey, Evan Handler takes on Alan Dershowitz, and Rob Morrow plays future Project Innocence head Barry Scheck. And considering all the police cases and issues about race that have been coming up over the past few years, this series could not be more relevant. And the network continues to shoot the moon: when Marcia Clark learns that Cochran has joined the defense, she responds with a twelve letter obscenity that the late Justice Scalia believed was not spoken in mixed company.
It’s not completely perfect. Though David Schwimmer does a fine job as Robert Kardashian, defense attorney and O.J.’s closest friend, it does have the negative effect that we now have to deal with all the little Kardashians, who seem to be inserted into every episode for no reason. (On the plus side, this series does give a small hint as to why they have become a name brand.) And given the brutality of the crimes, its rather a shames that the victims seem to be the only people in this story that don’t get a fair shake. This may be intentional too, though: considering how quickly they were shunted to the side in every aspect of the trial. But, by and large, “The People Vs. O.J. Simpson” adds yet another stellar candidate to the already excellent group of Best Limited Series nominees, including “American Crime” and “Fargo”. I don’t envy the voters their jobs this year, and its still only February.
My score: 4.75 stars.