I’m not alone in regarding the drama series American Crime Story – The People v. O.J. Simpson as one of the outstanding TV shows of the year. By coincidence, while that was being made ESPN was working at the same time on O.J.: Made in America, a documentary series, which was broadcast over the summer in America and (with surprisingly little fanfare) on BT Sports in the UK. And it’s one of the other outstanding TV shows of the year.
We know, of course, that the case of the murder of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, and the subsequent prosecution of Simpson, was a hellish brew of violence, race, media, politics, law, class, and misogyny. Where O.J.: Made in America really scores is in putting all of that in its inescapable context, by showing us the personal history of Simpson and the racial history of Los Angeles, before getting to the trial. It includes archive footage and talking heads, such as F. Lee Bailey, Barry Scheck, and Carl E. Douglas from the defence side; Mark Fuhrman from the LAPD; a couple of jurors; and from the prosecution Gil Garcetti and the much-maligned Marcia Clark, but not her teammate Chris Darden. (Would it be unfair to suggest, even tentatively, that Clark still doesn’t quite get why Simpson was acquitted?)
And at the centre of it all is the irony of Simpson, a man who during his career tried to outrun the very idea of race, but then saw himself defined by it: damned or saved – perhaps both – by the colour of his skin, depending on how you view the investigation, prosecution, trial, verdict, and sordid aftermath.
I have the same lingering doubt that I did with the dramatised version: is it entirely right that I should find it so richly entertaining? And there’s quite a lot of it – five parts, each clocking in at just short of two hours. But it’s remarkable television. I can’t recommend it highly enough.