The instinctive desire to disdainfully roll your eyes at the mere thought that FX is airing a 10-part TV series called The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story is not only justified, but rational.
After all, 21 years is not enough time to forget how divisive and polarizing the O.J. Simpson trial was for Black and White people in this country. Two people were brutally murdered and yet all that seemed to really matter were the racist criminal justice system, sex, power, celebrity and money surrounding the case.
Interestingly enough, all of those issues are still plaguing America today making the drama, which debuts Tuesday, and the real-life tale it is based upon feel more relevant than ever. Such pertinence coupled with stellar storytelling make The People V. O.J. Simpson a show worth watching. Here’s why we’re tuning in:
The Cast: Cuba Gooding Jr. is an Oscar-winning actor for a reason and he proves that with his layered portrayal of Simpson. Scattered and unhinged at certain times and cocky and egomaniacal at others, Gooding actually manages to turn the former football hero into a mostly sympathetic figure.
Meanwhile, Courtney B. Vance is a revelation as the late defense attorney Johnnie Cochran, masterfully capturing the rock star lawyer’s rarely seen muted side as well as his well-documented flashier moments. John Travolta is a perfect fit as attorney Robert Shapiro as are Sarah Paulson as prosecutor Marcia Clark and Sterling K. Brown as prosecutor Christopher Darden. The only casting misstep is David Schwimmer as Simpson’s friend and business lawyer Robert Kardashian, who seems damned to play variations of Ross Geller from Friends for the rest of his life.
The People Behind the Camera: One of the reasons the public is turned off by the idea of The People V. O.J. Simpson is the assumption that the writers and the producers behind it are going to try and persuade viewers of Simpson’s guilt or innocence. But that’s not the case and it truly feels like executive producers Ryan Murphy, Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson did everything they could to tell an unbiased story. This includes bringing Anthony M. Hemingway and John Singleton onboard to direct and Joe Robert Cole and Maya Forbes to write and help shape the series. Kudos.
The Way the Story is Told: The very first episode opens with the Rodney King beating and subsequent verdict and riots just two years before Simpson was arrested and charged.
By showing this footage, the series quickly and intelligently acknowledges the precedent of anger and injustice that helped turn Simpson’s case into a larger-than-life symbol and event it was.
Other noteworthy techniques include using Nina Simone’s “I Shall Be Released” just before Simpson’s Bronco chase and establishing how the Kardashians became the Kardashians we know today. It’s also worth commending the brilliant inclusion of white and black viewpoints through various conversations before and during the case and the power of the once NFL great’s celebrity. This includes an exchange about the definition of blackness and the point at which Simpson became “black again.” Watching how the police interacted with him before his arrest is also very telling. You have to see it to believe it and you will love it.
The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story premieres Tuesday Feb. 2 at 10 pm ET on FX.