It’s arguable that American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson pulls its smartest stroke at the start, with real-life footage of Rodney King’s beating by police officers, and the 1992 Los Angeles riots which followed the acquittal of the officers. The riots happened 2 years before Simpson’s arrest, but it’s a statement of intent, and one which ties the show as strongly to the present day as to pre-O.J. history.
Anyway, it sets the scene for a thoroughly entertaining episode, which just about manages to combine seriousness and a hint of camp. As with Deutschland 83, half-remembered names come swimming back into focus: Marcia Clark, Chris Darden, Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro, Kato Kaelin. Some of the acting is very good indeed: the standout so far is Sarah Paulson as lead prosecutor Clark, appalled by the crime but ambitious nonetheless. The reliable Courtney B. Vance is excellent as Cochran. And Cuba Gooding, Jr. makes up for his lack of resemblance to the real O.J. by giving the character a fury and neediness which feels right.
The most problematic performance so far (discounting David Schwimmer’s, which is perfectly fine, but dude has a lot of running to do to escape the shadow of Ross Geller) is John Travolta’s as Shapiro: Travolta seems somehow detached from the rest of the cast, almost as if he’s just too famous for the part. This is perhaps fitting; it’s a dramatic portrayal of a crime which had, in its unfolding mid-90s narrative, elements of fame as well as race and domestic abuse. But on the evidence of this first episode American Crime Story will more than get away with it. I really enjoyed it, and I’d recommend giving it a try, particularly if you’re old enough to remember the events first time round. I’m not anticipating further reviews, but I didn’t expect to be writing this one either, so we’ll see.