Airtime: Tuesdays at 10PM on FX
I’ll admit, when I first heard of FX’s latest, AMERICAN CRIME STORY, and that it was to be focusing on the infamous O.J. Simpson trial, I was skeptical. First of all, I’m positive this has been covered by several TV movies/mini-series already, none of which I can remember anything about besides that they existed. Second of all–how captivating can it be when most of us know, and remember hearing first hand, about almost every plot point along the way?
But this past fall FX won me over with one of its other anthology series, Fargo, and I’ve heard nothing but great things about American Horror Story. So if anyone could pull it off, this network could.
I’m pretty excited to report that they pretty much nailed it. They made it work. I was slow to warm up to it, but by the end I was desperately wishing I was in the future watching this on Netflix with the next episode’s beginning counting down from five for me. But I do know that if this level of storytelling continues, I will savor this for the next nine weeks worth of episodes.
I should also pre-empt these next couple months worth of reviews by letting you know this: I was in sixth grade when this was actually going on, growing up in far away Connecticut. I don’t remember ever seeing it on TV in my house, but I remember my family and extended family talking quite a bit about it. I remember my cousin was lambasted for believing O.J. was innocent. I remember making O.J. Simpson jokes with my friends, even though I never followed the trial and didn’t really know why it was funny. I just knew that he was a murderer, and obviously so, and his attempt to hide this fact was a joke. I remember the day of the verdict, my 6th grade math teacher paused class and had us listen to it live over the radio (the RADIO!) and everyone groaned when it was not guilty. But, again, I was just going with the crowd.
So when the series opened tonight on actual news footage of the L.A riots after the Rodney King verdict and then cut to two years later (the night of Nicole Simpson’s killing) I immediately realized there’s a WHOLE other side to this I have been mostly unaware of–and that’s the racial side. As an adult in Los Angeles I am now keenly aware of how race permeates many issues, especially when it comes to law enforcement. But to START the story of the O.J. Simpson trial by showing the riots told me that the storytellers felt it CRUCIAL to insert this context. And so I knew off the bat that even though I THOUGHT I basically knew what the O.J. Simpson trial was all about, there is more for me to learn, and the show creators might even have something poignant to actually say about it all.
The following hour of TV was thoroughly enjoyable; seeing recognizable faces pop up in key real life roles (David Schwimmer as Rob Kardashian, John Travolta as Robert Shapiro, Selma Blair as Kris Jenner, of course Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J. himself) was just fun. I’m sure that will wear off as it goes on but for now it kept me excited on the edge of my seat for the next cameo. I wasn’t on board with the casting of bite-size Cuba as the behemoth NFL superstar O.J. Simpson (yes, despite Cuba’s Jerry McGuire role) and initially was baffled by how he was playing the character–it seemed like he chose to play O.J. as guilty, but not subtly so–but in the end he won me over. Though for my money, I would have loved to see The Wire and The Walking Dead’s Chad Coleman play O.J.
The way the show was shot and the way the events unfolded methodically yet at a breakneck pace, all the while still pulling off establishing characters and foreshadowing themes, was an impressive feat. Showing how O.J.’s celebrity status interfered with the way the LAPD and investigators initially handled the case was intriguing. And, though I’m sure some found it annoying as we SURELY have more than enough Kardashian references in all of our lives, I found it funny to see little Kim and Khloe getting yelled at by Kris Jenner at Nicole Simpson’s funeral. Or when O.J. Simpson literally almost blows his own brains out in Kim Kardashian’s childhood bedroom. THAT’s pretty trippy.
And it occurred to me maybe that worked for me BECAUSE I know what happens. I know those two little girls go on to star in their own TV shows and one makes a sex tape and breaks the internet. And the characters in the show, blissfully trapped in the 90’s, don’t know that. I KNOW that O.J. gets in a White Ford Bronco and evades police in a historic high-speed chase. Seeing these characters discover that for the first time, like we all did over twenty years ago, and seeing them discover other points that surprised us along that path, is the joy viewers already familiar with the story can take in this rehashing of events. For once, the spoilers are kind of the point. So bring ‘em on. I’m ready for the next episode now.
Paul co-created and writes for SHOWoff, a game that lets players predict what happens next on their favorite TV shows, earn points for what they get right, and see where they stack up against friends and the world (free in the iOS App store). Check out the SHOWoff app at playSHOWoff.com
Paul Gulyas | Contributor