American Crime Story – The People v. O.J. Simpson s1 ep 10

I hadn’t planned to say anything more about The People v O.J. Simpson. But now that it’s finished: my God, this was a great show. It kind of feels as if it’s in poor taste to say that a dramatic retelling of a gruesome real-life murder was ridiculously entertaining. But it was. I even found myself watching Marcia and Chris and… well, is it shipping? What do you call it when the people actually exist in real life, might or might not have hooked up 20 years ago, are now being played by actors, and you want them to get together on the show? Retro-shipping? In which case I’m retro-shipping #Darcia into the middle of next week.

Given that the plot is well-known – albeit, as it turns out, a gift to dramatists – what the show really needed was good acting. And here, of course, it cleaned up. I warmed, as the season went on, to John Travolta’s larger-than-life Robert Shapiro, especially in the context of Cuba Gooding, Jr., as Simpson, who went in almost the opposite direction – fitting, perhaps, for a case which became much bigger than OJ – but got a chance to shine in the dazzling final episode. Were David Schwimmer not Ross out of Friends, he would be getting more credit for his increasingly haunted performance as Robert Kardashian, slowly coming to the conclusion that his beloved Juice was guilty. And in just about any other show Nathan Lane’s subtle, wily F. Lee Bailey would have been the standout.

At the centre, though, were three remarkable performances. In my review of the first episode I singled out Sarah Paulson (playing Marcia Clark) and Courtney B. Vance (playing Johnnie Cochran) for praise, and as the show went on they just got better. By the end, though, I was wondering whether both had been overtaken by Sterling K. Brown, turning in a quite jaw-dropping performance as Chris Darden, particularly in the astonishing ninth episode, as all of the tension of the case and its context – racial, sexual, whatever – started to boil over. That episode took what looked like a high-stakes gamble by spending quite a long time on the legal back-and-forth, but more than got away with it, leading up to the still almost-unbelievable moment when Detective Mark Fuhrman (yet another impressive performance, this one from Steven Pasquale) took the Fifth on being asked if he’d planted any evidence in the case.

This isn’t quite the best show I’ve seen in the last 12 months. (Fargo, if you’re wondering.) But it’s yet another Golden Age of Television benchmark, even in today’s increasingly-cluttered TV world, and I would expect Emmy nominations all over the place. Nor did it lose sight of the victims – even if Darden, at the final press conference, breaking down in the arms of the Goldmans hadn’t got me, the last shot would have.

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6 thoughts on “American Crime Story – The People v. O.J. Simpson s1 ep 10

  1. Bill April 20, 2016 / 8:57 pm

    Absolutely agree, particularly in relation to Darden, loved his exchange with Johnnie Cochran in this episode. I still have no clue as to how much of this was was lifted directly from real life, and how much was embellished for dramatic effect. I have a feeling that it was truer than I would like to believe. Which is really quite frightening.

    American real life crime seems to be where it has been at in the last year or two, breaking records to boot. Serial, Making a Murderer and Robert Durst with The Jinx have all made for compelling viewing and listening, and I wonder if we are anywhere close to saturation point? I guess, as this show proves, it is all about maintaining the drama even though we already know the outcome.

    I must admit that I wrestled over whether to keep watching beyond the first couple of episodes when the Kardashian kids appeared. But I am glad I persevered as it did get better. I also realised that where I binged on the other shows I mentioned above, I couldn’t do that with this show, even when I had a couple of episodes to catch up on. Perhaps the acting was all a bit too dramatic at times and I needed a break for a while?

    Despite that though, it certainly was real enough that it stayed with me and had largely the same impact as the other more documentary based shows. I still don’t know how some people sleep at night.

  2. Jed Bartlet April 20, 2016 / 10:44 pm

    Oh yes, everyone’s at it now. NBC is planning to expand its Law and Order franchise to do some true crime (the Menendez brothers), CBS is going to do the JonBenét Ramsey story, and season 2 of ACS is going to be about Hurricane Katrina.

    There are quite a few sites which fact-checked People v OJ as it was running (e.g. Vanity Fair: http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2016/03/people-v-oj-simpson-episode-9-recap). There has been a certain amount of dramatic embellishment, but as you say not as much as one might imagine.

  3. Snoskred April 21, 2016 / 1:22 am

    I loved everything about this show. It was very well done. 🙂

    I honestly feel like they could have taken this story and made more than one season, there was so much they missed out on. And I definitely would have been on board for it, given the excellence of the acting.

    I almost wish season two were going to go back and show us more of these characters as they made their way through this trial.

    • Jed Bartlet April 24, 2016 / 1:12 am

      I loved everything about it as well. I can’t overstate just how good I thought it was.

      I know what you mean about the characters – they were so well played that you felt there were more stories to tell.

  4. CJ Cregg April 23, 2016 / 5:00 pm

    Just caught up with the finale, today – for all I knew how the verdict was going to go, my stomach was still churning throughout, which is a measure of just how gripping this show ended up being.

    Like Bill, I didn’t like the first couple of episodes with their focus on the Kardashian Kids at all or all that “Juice, Juice” nonsense, but that powerful opening with the riots and the scenes of the prosecution team kept me watching, and by about episode 4, I was glad they did. Episode 6 aka “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” in particular was astonishing – that moment where they adjourned the trial for the day because she was sitting crying at the prosecution table broke me, it was so heartbreaking – but basically everything from ep 4 to the final seconds of this absolutely incredible finale was terrific.

    I agree with everyone about the acting and the casting. Sarah Paulson and Sterling K Brown deserve every award going. Courtney B Vance, too, obviously, although I was completely infuriated with Johnnie by about ep 9. I was in pieces for most of the finale – the verdict, the press conference, Darden breaking down, the Goldmans in the car turning off the radio, Robert Kardashian’s face…. And as you said, Jed, that last shot, reminding us that regardless of all the theatrics and politicking the trial ended up being about, it should have been about two people who lost their lives in a horrible, horrible crime.

    I just finished watching about 20 minutes ago and, as I type this, my eyes are filling up again.

    • Jed Bartlet April 24, 2016 / 1:15 am

      Oh wow, yes. ‘Marcia, Marcia, Marcia’ was just amazing. And although this wasn’t a major theme of the show, a very clear illustration of the way in which Marcia Clark was scrutinised throughout the trial in respect of matters both relevant and irrelevant. I’m not sure we’ve improved greatly in the way we treat women in the pubic eye.

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