Posting something a little different for my first post in February. For one of my university courses, I recently watched the start of the FX miniseries The People v. O.J. Simpson: An American Crime Story. This show is based off of the historic 1995 O.J. Simpson trials. Even though it was a class assignment, I really enjoyed the pilot episode and look forward to the next episodes. Read more about it below! [Alert: there are spoilers]
Can a court case from over two decades ago intrigue our interest today? A controversial case like The People v. O.J. Simpson can. The recent premiere of the television miniseries, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” proves that this 1990s case continues to be relevant to Americans’ lives today. The series addresses how racism and the judicial system possible intersect. Are black men unrightfully being imprisoned by a corrupt police force? The series lets the viewers decide the answer to this question by presenting them the facts. In 1994, Los Angeles police charged O.J. Simpson, former football player, with the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and friend Ronald Goldman. The trial grew to become one of the most highly publicized in American history. Considered the “trial of the century,” it ended with Simpson’s acquittal and a not guilty verdict in 1995. In response to the striking verdict, author Jeffrey Toobin wrote The Run of His Life: The People Versus O.J. Simpson, a commentary on the case. Based on this book, the show dramatizes O.J. Simpson’s experience, replacing the original people with quite believable actors. After airing on February 2 on the FX cable television channel, the pilot episode promises a riveting upcoming season of complex characters and conflicts.
The writers frame the story well in a way that hooks the viewer from the beginning, but skews how the audience interprets the story. The pilot starts with clips of police brutality, black men being beaten and arrested by officers. These scenes set a racial tone for the show, which would appeal to activists fighting against racism today. However, the decision to begin this way skews the audience’s perspective so they see the story as a case about race. While race relations played a large role in the hype around the case, this opening scene prevents the audience from considering other factors of the case such as Simpson’s physically abusive relationship with his ex-wife. Additionally, the origin of the tapes is not clear. They could be from recent events in Ferguson, Missouri or back in the 1990s, but there was not annotation. The next screen says, “2 years later,” so viewers cannot determine the time period of the beginning scenes.
Next, the core of the pilot reviews the first few days after the murder: O.J. finding out, assembling his legal team, and attending the funeral. The progression of events follows the actual case facts. For instance, they show the dog with bloody paws as the only eyewitness to the crime. The police first considered O.J. a suspect because they found blood on his white Ford Bronco. Detective Tom Lange calls Simpson to tell him his ex-wife has been murdered. O.J. sneaks out of Robert Kardashian’s house in the end with his friend A.C. Cowlings, a retired football player. The pilot episode closed with an exciting clincher: the beginning of the car chase, where the media broadcasts Simpson’s attempted escape live. In framing the story this way, though sometimes confusing, the plot leaves the audience excited for the next episode.
Regarding the characters, the depiction of the main players in this story comes across as believable because the actors take on distinctive personalities. For instance, District Attorney Marcia Clark acts driven and tough at work, but at home, she struggles to take care of her young kids as a single mother in the middle of a divorce. Also interesting, viewers see her motivation behind pursuing O.J. as the prime suspect. She does not view him as a black man or the case as a race-based issue. Clark views the case from a domestic violence angle and wants Simpson arrested because he physically abused Nicole. Clark’s character would appeal to feminist viewers. As a very complex individual, hopefully Clark’s character is developed in further episodes. Regarding the lead role, Cuba Gooding Jr., a long-time famous actor, plays O.J. Simpson quite realistically. He is a recognizable choice to play the main character, as anyone well versed in black films would recognize him. The writers gave viewers only one side of Simpson’s persona, his explosive temper, which makes him look capable of murder. At the same time, we see a side of Simpson that might not have been seen in the media coverage in 1995. His character continuously takes pills for an unknown condition. By the end of the episode, he mopes around the house, writes his will, and holds a gun to himself. Is Simpson crazy or depressed? We will find out next week. By the end of the pilot episode, viewers only half-understand Simpson, which makes them want to see the next episode.
While some characters intrigued, others disappointed, especially Robert Kardashian played by David Schwimmer, a poor choice by the casting directors. A white man plays an Armenian character by tanning his skin and dying his hair. Some viewers might be offended. The show introduced Robert Kardashian in a confusing way during the media mob scene outside O.J. Simpson’s house. He does not seem to belong in the story. Kardashian seems like an amateur lawyer, not a major character. The pilot did not convey Robert Kardashian’s importance to the story well.
In spite of the show’s pitfalls, I am excited to watch the next episode of “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” I cannot wait to see the car chase unfold and how O.J.’s character develops. I also want learn more about Marcia Clark. Nonetheless, I hope they put more emphasis on other aspects of the case besides racial injustice. As it takes the viewers through the whole story detail by detail, the series appeals to audiences young who don’t know the case and older who remember the media broadcasts. O.J. Simpson’s case proves to be timeless and exciting regardless of the decade.
In case you’re not convinced to watch the show yet, check out this video of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s take on playing O.J. Simpson: