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Star-studded American Crime Story: The People v. O. J. Simpson finds real drama

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There is almost certainly no criminal case from the last few decades better known around the world than the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Not only did it involve a formerly beloved celebrity and kick off with a 90-minute car chase (which even interrupted the telecast of an NBA Final!) but it spoke to deep racial tensions and the difficult relationship between American police and African Americans. And the story of the trial remains relevant when, more than two decades on, that relationship has deteriorated even further in many parts of the country.
Tackling these issues and providing the full political context for the Simpson trial is clearly a massive priority for the creators of American Crime Story, a new TV drama which has Simpson as its focus for its first 10-part series. It kicks off with footage of the vicious beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles Police Department officers and the subsequent riots.
Then it leaps forward two years to the night on which Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Simpson, was murdered, and proceeds from there.
Of course, most of America had decided pretty quickly that Simpson had to be guilty, but vast swathes of the African American community were more suspicious.
The series is a spin-off, of sorts, of Ryan Murphy’s high-camp (cleverly disguised by just-as-high production values) American Horror Story. It was developed by Scott Alexander and Larry Kraszewski while Murphy serves as an executive producer and directs several of the episodes.
And much like Murphy’s other big, recent hits, including Glee, Scream Queens and AHS, this is a star-studded affair, with Cuba Gooding Jr as Simpson himself, John Travolta, David Schwimmer, Nathan Lane, Connie Britton and Sarah Paulson all appearing.
With that cast, it was always unlikely that this would be a dry legal procedural, but it’s still surprising just how much human drama stems from the one trial — the impact upon Simpson’s family and friends, the lawyers involved on both sides, and how America reacted to this heroic sportsperson’s downfall.
At the centre of Simpson’s arc in the series is his relationship with his close friend and eventual lawyer Rob Kardashian (played by David Schwimmer, aka, Ross from Friends). In the days following the murders, Simpson hid out at Kardashian’s house and stayed in the bedroom of a young Khloe Kardashian (although in the series, it is Kim’s room).
There are events in this series that, if fictitious and entirely dreamt up by a writer, you’d think veer too far towards hysteria and melodrama. But no. These things actually happened, which is why the series is often impossible to take your eyes away from.
I can’t help feeling that the creators have reached perhaps a little too far in trying to explore the moment the Kardashian clan burst into the spotlight with thanks to patriarch Rob Kardashian. There’s one misjudged scene in the second episode which shows the young Kardashian children cheering at a TV screen when they realise their name is about to be known across the whole country. (And it also seems a pretty blatant marketing ploy to attract some of the Kardashians’ sizeable audience. Rob Kardashian played a massive role in the trial and Simpson’s life, but the involvement of the rest of his family wasn’t exactly huge.)
The quality of the performances vary quite a bit. Travolta’s take on high-profile lawyer Robert Shapiro is a little overplayed and has been slammed by US media, but it does get better as the series goes on. Schwimmer is particularly impressive as Rob Kardashian, as he struggles with the notion that his good friend might just have committed two horrific murders, and Gooding Jr has some extraordinary moments, as well as some which fall a little flat.
But the real star of the series is Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark, the head prosecutor in the case who relentlessly pursues justice for the victims. She really is one of America’s great underrated actors and this is such a tenacious performance that she deserves whatever accolades might come her way.
It’s hard to say if the series will resonate quite so strongly in Australia when it begins airing this Sunday night on Ten. But even if some of those deeper themes don’t connect, this series is so engrossing and wears its heart and politics so lovingly on its sleeve that it’s difficult not to enjoy.
Even with its few missteps, the creators capture the rich tapestry surrounding the trial impressively. It’s certainly addictive viewing.

[box]American Crime Story: The People v O.J. Simpson airs on Ten from Sunday, 8.30pm[/box]

3 responses to “Star-studded American Crime Story: The People v. O. J. Simpson finds real drama

  1. Pretty much agree with everything said here. The Kardashion angle is overplayed a bit as is Travolta (although to his defence Shapiro was OTT in real life as well). Paulson is excellent as the hard nosed prosecutor. Just watch her as focus group results come back telling her how unlikable she is.The only real downside for me is the miscasting of Cuba GJ. I hated his performance. That car “chase” was excruciatingly over long and boring with CGJ so annoying that I wished he changed history & shot himself in the car.

  2. They don’t show him almost cutting his ex-wife’s head off nor stabbing Ron Goldamn to death , so it is just nothing more than media contrived agitprop, no different than the coverage at the time..

  3. Love it. Love Gooding. Love Travolta. I can’t tell if its parody or if life is just ridiculous and so any tv show is. The Kardashian kids just help make that problem worse.The event itself was awful. People took it all seriously. It wasn’t serious. The whole monument of effort expended toward nothing made me embarrassed to be human. But it happened. And the show makes all that nothingness teeth-grittingly obvious. Hilarious. Terrifying.

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