"The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story" retells the infamous tale of football hero-turned-criminal O.J. Simpson during his trial for double murder. The show tells the wildly impactful story from the perspective of those closest to the trial, including Simpson himself.
It takes an in-depth look at all involved — many of whom have become legends in their own right — and the human motivation and reasoning that guided their decisions.
The first episode set the scene, from the discovery of the murder to the realization that Simpson is the prime subject. The second episode was entirely devoted to the infamous car chase in the white Ford Bronco that took place while Simpson grappled with suicidal thoughts. Both episodes were flawed, but gripping nonetheless
The third episode in the series, titled "The Dream Team," begins with Simpson's longtime friend Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer) taking his kids out to brunch. Unfortunately, due to the celebrity the Kardashian kids have gained, it seems as if the characters have been forced into the show. They have little to no influence on the story, but they do a good job of making headlines and attracting more viewers. The whole thing puts a bad taste in my mouth. The scene is partly salvaged by a devoted and passionate performance from Schwimmer as reaffirms his faith in "Uncle Juice" to the little Kardashians.
"We are Kardashians. And in this family, being a good person and a loyal friend is more important than being famous," he said, surprisingly refraining from rolling his eyes afterward.
We are then taken to a scene of magazine editors discussing how to spice up the image of Simpson's mug shot for their cover. This alludes to the infamous doctored cover of Time magazine that darkened Simpson's face.
The magazine cover took over the media and gave the case more racial undertones, which made it so much more important for the prosecutors to prove Simpson's guilt beyond a doubt. If there was a possibility of innocence and Simpson was convicted, the racial unrest at the time would have created a firestorm.
It is clear to most everyone involved that Simpson isn't telling the truth. Among these doubters is Robert Shapiro, Simspon's attorney, played by a compelling — if not slightly stiff — John Travolta. A shaken Shapiro calls upon the aid of F. Lee Bailey, portrayed by the eternally charming Nathan Lane. Bailey famously earned a not guilty verdict for Sam Sheppard, allegedly the real-life inspiration behind "The Fugitive."
Shapiro, Bailey, Kardashian and a few other select attorneys form the titular team begin to form their strategy. These attorneys have mountains of evidence pointing to Simpson's guilt and have little on their side. What they do have is the myth of O.J. Simpson. The strategy revolves around achieving an innocent verdict through plausible deniability and the celebrity of the football star.
I may be the only person on the planet who feels this way, but I bafflingly find myself rooting for Simpson's lawyers. Even though these lawyers are the best, and richest, in the business and they are representing a murderer, it is interesting to see how these guys maneuver through an impossible situation. These legal powerhouses are the underdogs in this story, and who doesn't love an underdog? Also it is hard to root against Ross Geller ... I mean Robert Kardashian.
The attorneys adopt the strategy of questioning every piece of evidence that is presented.
"Make every piece of evidence that is presented either thrown out, untrustworthy or confusing, no quarter," one lawyer says.
The defense's case is strengthened with the new information that the cop who found Simpson's glove is a known racist. This news, in league with the magazine scandal, leaves Shapiro foaming at the mouth to exploit racial unrest. It is a slimy move, but it was the only one to make as a defendant.
The lawyers try to put Johnnie Cochran, played by Courtney Vance, on the team to heighten the credibility of their defense. But Simpson has no interest in turning the case into a black issue.
"I'm not black, I'm O.J.," Simpson says in a dramatic fashion.
We are then gifted with two odd scenes. First, Cochran is prank called by someone pretending to Simpson, probably establishing Cochran's willingness to take the case.
Then we get to see Simpson's guest room resident, Kato, played by Billy Magnussen, on a jog. Hot girls flash him and hot guys spit on him. With a sigh, Kato says, "Fame is complicated." There is not much more to say about the scene. At least Magnussen got some screen time, I guess.
Kardashian picks up his kids and we get Kris Jenner's perspective on the situation. Perhaps what the show has done best is its casting choices, and none shine brighter than Selma Blair as Jenner. She is exactly the actress who springs to mind for the role; her look and demeanor are perfect.
Eventually Simpson reluctantly agrees to seek Cochran's council. When Cochran and Simpson meet, Simpson passionately defends his love for Nicole. He restates that there is simply no way he could have killed this woman. Cochran believes the plea and assures that one black juror means that O.J. will go home.
The show ends with Marcia Clark, played by Sarah Paulson, reading about the Cochran addition and dropping an F-bomb on cable television. This episode was rather uneventful for Clark, who basically spent the entire time reacting to what the other side was doing. It is now clear to the prosecution that this case is not as open-and-shut as it may seem.
It is always interesting to see the inside story on one of the most famous events in American history. It was a story that involved pop culture, racial issues, criminal justice issues and even the sporting world. But this third episode did nothing to alleviate the problems with the show.
The show will keep you involved, and it will keep you coming back for more because it is such a famous story and a lot of effort was clearly put into re-creating it. However, it is far from the best thing on television.
To begin with, every other shot is a revolving one depicting intense conversation. Those long, rotating shots are fine to emphasize crucial moments in a story, but in the show they just serve to bring more drama to ordinary conversations. The shot also loses its novelty after the second or third time it is used.
Aside from that, there is an overreliance on the Kardashian family; there are scenes that are unnecessary and out of place like the Kato scene; and there is a basic lack of focus. It is as if there are too many big names and colorful characters in the show and the creators want to focus on all of them.
Finally, Cuba Gooding Jr. is doing a fine job depicting a damaged man loosing touch with reality, but where Simpson's mind was at remains a mystery to me. He is just as much of an anomaly as the real man. Maybe the show-runners want to keep the mystery alive, but I wish I could wrap my head around what Simpson was going through. I just wish there was some insight into Simpson's thought processes, not just a mirror reflection of what he did in public.
All negativity aside, I do enjoy watching the show. It is an amazing story about a turbulent time in American history. Moreover, it often takes a few episodes for a show to find its groove, and I am sure "American Crime Story" is going to be around for a while.