American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson s1 ep 1

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.

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5 thoughts on “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson s1 ep 1

  1. CJ Cregg February 18, 2016 / 8:55 pm

    I agree with you, Jed, that the strongest bit was at the beginning – I thought that part was incredibly powerful, and as you said ties the show as much to the present as to the past. I also agree that Sarah Paulson’s Marcia Clark is the stand-out so far, and I thought the format generally worked best when we were with the DA’s office or the police and the material was being treated seriously.

    But for me the problem wasn’t so much the hint of camp as what I felt was truck-loads of it. It was like watching 2 completely different shows at the same time – one serious exploration of race, domestic abuse, celebrity and the justice system, and one standard Ryan Murphy comedy horror pastiche.

    Every time someone from outwith the police/DA’s office showed up – except maybe Johnnie Cochran – I felt like we shifted gears into deliberate parody. The scene at the funeral with Kris Jenner gossiping with Faye Resnick was campy enough but to have her shouting at Khloe and Kourtney couldn’t have been more “LOLZ, do you see?! Mini-Kardashians!” if Selma Blair had actually turned round and winked at the audience. Adding the Kardashian kids for cheap points just dilutes the story and detracts from the seriousness of the rest of it. Also, it may be unfair to David Schwimmer but Ross Geller running about looking confused just looks like Ross Geller running about looking confused, whether it’s in connection with his best friend being detained for murder or the exact definition of “we were on a BREAK.”

  2. Jed Bartlet February 18, 2016 / 9:52 pm

    I know what you mean about the Kardashian stuff. The thing is – and I know that this makes me sound hopelessly out-of-touch with popular culture but I don’t really care – I don’t actually know who the Kardashians are. Well, I know they’re “famous”, and that one’s married to Ye, but beyond that… nothing. So while I can see it’s irritating to wink at the audience in that way – and I gather it doesn’t get better as the weeks go on – I didn’t feel as if I was the one being winked at, so I was able to filter it out a bit. If that makes sense.

  3. Snoskred February 18, 2016 / 11:45 pm

    I really feel like they should have left the Kardashian kids out of it, it was the one point of the story that was the most jarring to me.

    However I am a couple of episodes ahead, and there is a scene with the kids and Robert at a restaurant in episode 3 which I felt was ok and kinda fitted in with the story overall. If they could have just left it at that.. maybe it would have worked better. I really feel like the time on the screen is limited enough without bringing in kids who were nobodies then and happen to be “famous” now.

    Having watched a few youtube videos now, Travolta looks nothing like Shapiro, nor is he acting anything like Shapiro. The person he most reminds me of in this show is his role from Broken Arrow, which means I think he is acting like Travolta. Which would be perfectly fine I guess, if he wasn’t in a television series acting Shapiro.

    But jeebus, I looked at a video of Johnny Cochrane and Courtney B Vance is amazing in that role. 🙂

  4. Jed Bartlet March 23, 2016 / 1:42 pm

    Still loving this. Sarah Paulson is remarkable in a generally fantastic cast, and Courtney B. Vance is almost as good.

    • CJ Cregg March 23, 2016 / 9:09 pm

      I’m an ep or two behind, but slowly getting back into it – loving both SP and CBV, they are terrific. Thankfully, the show has moved away from messing around with the Mini-Kardashians too, which has made all the difference as far as I’m concerned. The dynamics on both the prosecution and defence teams are much more interesting, and beautifully played.

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