Reviewing: The People vs. O.J. Simpson

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I will say one thing right off the bat: Ryan Murphy knows what he’s doing. I have been a fan of Murphy’s productions, even from his beginnings on Glee. But I really came to respect him as a producer of innovative television after falling into fandom with the American Horror Story series. Television is Murphy’s prime element. He, along with the writers and directors, are able to create such visceral moments, nuanced characters and immersive story-telling experiences that is what TV should be all about.

However, it took me a while to get into this new endeavor, American Crime Story.

Again, as always happens when I read or watch something of the true-crime nature, I don’t really know much about the case being discussed, often because they happened long before my time. I remember hearing a lot of talk about O.J. Simpson growing up, but I never knew any of the specifics of why he was so interesting. So, I was excited to see an interpretation of the events, as I knew Murphy and his team would be careful to remain as true as possible to the actual events.

What struck me most about this show was the acting. This show is where unknown and mediocre actors became serious, great actors. The show is perfectly cast with Sarah Paulson (a favorite of Murhpy’s) as Marcia Clark. Paulson is so flexible in her performances that she can take on any role, whether it is the sheltered country girl, to the hard, driven lawyer. Not many women can hold her own the way she did as the only female lead in a production overrun with men. I honestly believe she is one of the great actors of our time and, luckily, she is garnering the appropriate attention for it. Sterling K. Brown has this rich, magnetic presence in everything he does. Even when he was portraying the uncertain, yet passionate lawyer Chris Darden, he commanded each and every scene with such depth and poise that one can’t help but be drawn in.

I was pleasantly surprised by John Travolta’s and David Schwimmer’s performances as Robert Shapiro and Robert Kardashian, respectively. I had really never seen much of Travolta’s work, but he just embodied the cold, calculating, hot-headedness of Shapiro so well, I nearly forgot his singing Grease days completely.  I know that Schwimmer has been working on several projects designed to shed his sitcom persona and come into his own. And I think he did just that in The People vs. O.J. Simpson. Schwimmer was wonderful in showing Kardashian’s inner struggle to explain away the facts of the case and deal with the realities of his role in the trial. His performance was delicate with emotion and relied on the subtle mannerisms that often speak volumes in tense situations like these.

The story seemed to progress normally and I liked seeing a lot of the behind-the-curtain moments when new information came to light and the struggle with the jurors. The issue of race followed an interesting portrayal throughout the story, and seemed to permeate almost every part of the trial and each and every episode. In many ways, it provided an interesting dynamic, because not only were Simpson’s black lawyers fighting and arguing with their fellow lawyers, but they were also arguing amongst themselves about the issue of race and who is on who’s side. It pains me to think of it this way, but I am convinced that if a case like this were to happen today, all of the arguments about racial motivations and corrupted police would resurface. And the case would proceed in much the same way. This may have been the motivation for the creators to choose the Simpson case to examine first — because it is much, much to relevant to our current society.

Unfortunately, it seems that any progress that may have been made, has been lost again.

Some fleeting thoughts I had while watching the show mostly centered on outrage around how Simpson’s lawyers acted. If you are suspicious of lawyers already, this story will only serve to solidify your discriminations. They were dirty, conniving and underhanded in their treatment, not only of the state and the prosecution, but also of their community. They sought a not-guilty verdict with single-minded ferocity, instead of seeking justice for the people of California and the families of the victims. It takes a certain type of loose-moraled person to do the job the way they did it. And while they did succeed, I personally, still view them as slimy snakes.

Does that mean I think Simpson did it? Perhaps. But I’m more concerned with the actions of the people who use “justice” as a pretty front for their inexcusable actions.

This show deserves all of the awards it is nominated for and I would highly recommend that lovers of true crime and great television give themselves the privilege of watching a wonderful performance about a terrible crime.

What did you think of American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson? Did you think the show’s portrayal of events showed an accurate picture of what actually occurred? How does this case relate to many of the ones we see now regarding race and police brutality? How do you think American Crime Story will continue in the future? Let’s talk.

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