Murder. Courtroom theatrics. A car chase involving an infamous white Ford Bronco.
VGRF here with a review of American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson.
Even after being told by all sorts of people that this series was worth a look see, I avoided it. After all, I was alive in the 1990s and if you were too, then this case was splashed on every TV channel all day, everyday. Though I was in high school at the time, like every other human on the planet, I gained a working knowledge of details, workings, and controversies behind the case, simply because it was impossible not to, given that the whole country was captivated by it.
In other words, I just didn’t think a new TV show about it could tell me much I didn’t already know but I was wrong. After giving the first episode on a shot on Netflix, I was instantly hooked.
If you’re a youngster, here’s my best attempt at a quick rehash. At one time, O.J. Simpson was a beloved American icon. He was a football star dubbed, “The Juice,” known for his incredible speed and pulling off amazing moves on the field. After his athletic career ended, he found a second calling in TV commercials for Hertz rental cars. Further, he played the lovable Nordberg in The Naked Gun, taking all manner of comic abuse from incompetent Detective Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen).
In 1994, Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were gruesomely stabbed to death. Incredibly damning pieces of evidence against O.J. were found, ranging from O.J.’s blood being found at the crime scene to Brown’s blood being found at O.J.’s home property.
Seemed like an open and shut case of a jealous ex-husband seeking the ultimate revenge against his ex-wife and a man she was either seeing or was just unlucky to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Perhaps people with better memories can remind me but as far as I recall, it sounded like Nicole and Ron were considered to be an item largely due to the fact that he was at Nicole’s home to return a pair of sunglasses left at the restaurant he worked at and restaurant workers are unlikely to do that sort of thing without some kind of romantic intentions.
Alas, the case didn’t turn out that easy. DNA evidence was relatively new at the time. People were having a hard time grasping the concept that science could be used to match blood to the person who bled it. Prior to DNA evidence, blood found at a crime scene could have belonged to anyone as far as the police knew.
On top of that, LA had been devastated by massive, widespread riots over the result of the Rodney King beating case verdict, i.e. police officers were caught on top beating a suspect, were let off the hook, and the community was none too pleased, to say the least.
Against that backdrop, the O.J. case became a microcosm of varying points of view against the different groups that comprised America:
- Many African Americans saw the case as an example of a poor black man who pulled himself up, found fame and fortune, and was being railroaded by a system that didn’t want to see black people get ahead.
- Others saw the case of celebrity status run amuck. To paraphrase comedian Chris Rock’s take on the case, had O.J. been a bus driver, he’d of been “Orenthal the bus driving murderer.” In other words, had O.J. not possessed the star power needed to dazzle the public along with the financial resources to dole out a fortune to a “Dream Team” of the country’s most famous attorneys, he most likely would have been found guilty. Thus, many didn’t see this as a racial case so much as a case of how the rich and famous are able to game the system and get away with crimes the poor and obscure never could.
- Some even saw it as an example of the struggles of battered women. There had been a long history of Nicole being beaten by OJ running up to the murders yet nothing happened.
- Ultimately, the case was the first courtroom battle to be broadcast round the clock on twenty four hour news stations. It was sensationalized to the max, and everyone and their uncle came out of the woodwork to cash in on the O.J. case.
Anyway, enough of the backstory. What captivated me about this series is that I was treated to something I didn’t see in the 1990s, i.e. what happened behind the scenes. That turmoil is best expressed via the individual experiences of the key players:
- Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer) – O.J.’s best friend who serves as an attorney on the Dream Team. This is some of the best acting I’ve seen coming out of Schwimmer, as he makes me believe that he truly loves O.J. and that love keeps him blind to the possibility that O.J. could have been behind these murders. Also, he was the father of the Kardashian clan, aka Kim Kardashian, as well as Khloe, Kourtney, and Rob, not to mention ex-husband of Kris. There’s a scene where Robert lectures his young children that values like friendship, loyalty, hard work and so on are much more important than fame and glamour, but something tells me the kids weren’t listening.
- Robert Shapiro (John Travolta) – Also some of the best acting I’ve seen out of Travolta, who portrays Shapiro as a sleaze who is overly concerned with his reputation and what the public thinks about him. Known as a celebrity plea bargainer, i.e. an attorney who helps celebrity defendants get the best possible deal rather than taking the cases to trial.
- Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) – Tough lead prosecutor who starts out thinking the case is a slam dunk only to have it consume her life when it becomes more than she bargained for. Hard as nails as she wants to see justice done for the victims. Victim of a sexist media that routinely comments on her physical appearance, clothes, and hair style. Her family life suffers as she has to hire babysitters to watch her kids all the time, leaving her ex-husband to challenge custody. Vastly outnumbered against O.J.’s team of the best lawyers money can buy.
- Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) – Was often parodied as a flashy charlatan at the time of trial as he wore loud suits and spoke in rhyme (“If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”) This series gives his reputation gets a bit of an upgrade as we see Cochran’s past work in representing African American defendants and families of victims of alleged police brutality.
- Chris Darden (Sterling K. Brown) – In a widespread, star studded cast, probably has the most compelling story. He is a co-prosecutor on the case, yet family and friends from his old neighborhood view him as a sellout because they feel O.J. has been falsely accused and is being railroaded by the man. Ironically, having worked in a dead end position in the LA DA’s office in which he investigates allegations against police officers that never go anywhere due to a system that prevents this from happening, he is aware that the LAPD is not without its share of problems. Yet, he also believes what’s right is right, what’s wrong is wrong and in this particular case, feels strongly in O.J.’s guilt and that letting a murderer go free isn’t the way to fix a broken system.
Last but not least, Cuba Gooding Jr. reminds us why he won an Oscar in his portrayal of Simpson. This had to have been a difficult character to play. Even behind the scenes, Cuba as O.J. maintains his innocence. At no time are you given a proverbial smoking gun, so if you think he’s guilty, you are free to interpret O.J.’s actions/outbursts/odd activities as those of a guilty man, or if you think he’s innocent, you are free to chalk it all up to the stress of a falsely accused man being railroad.
Although, let’s be honest, holy shit, O.J. was totally guilty. I’m not sure if there was ever any kind of poll but as far as I know, everyone thinks he did it and the evidence is pretty undeniable, even though the jury denied it at the time. The family of Ronald Goldman was able to win a civil judgment against the Juice. What clinches it for me (among many things that clinched it) was that years later, OJ released a disturbing If I Did It book, explaining how he would have done it – not exactly something that a person “falsely accused” of murdering an ex-wife he claimed to love would do, IMO.
Ironically, years later, O.J. ended up going to jail after a failed burglary meant to steal pieces of his sports memorabilia. One would think that a man who so miraculously beat a murder rap would have kept his nose clean from then on, oh that wacky O.J.
STATUS: Shelf-worthy. Binge watch it on Netflix today.