Thursday, October 6, 2016

Now on Netflix: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (2016)

The People Vs. O.J. Simpson poster
The People Vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (2016) - Created by Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski; Starring Cuba Gooding Jr., John Travolta, Sarah Paulson, David Schwimmer, Sterling K. Brown, Kenneth Choi, Bruce Greenwood, Nathan Lane, Courtney B. Vance, Rob Morrow, Jordana Brewster, Selma Blair, Evan Handler, Malcolm Jamal-Warner, Connie Britton.

By Kenny Howell

After exploring the American horror stories, Ryan Murphy turns himself to crime in this examination of the O.J. Simpson trial that won, I believe, all the Emmys.

Over 10 episodes, creators Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski tell a pretty complete story of the trial from start to finish. We start with the finding of the bodies of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman, and work our way all the way through the acquittal (spoiler alert), plus the immediate aftermath. As you may know, the trial became a media circus in the early days of 24-hour news, and also took on a strong racial divide in a world that was still in the midst of the Rodney King verdict and subsequent riot a few years earlier.

The show is told from many different angles, but mostly from the side of prosecution, led by Marcia Clark, played by Sarah Paulson (12 Years a Slave), and Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown). What seems like an air tight case with a mountain of evidence slowly slips away from them as a defense team of stalwart lawyers, led by Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance), misdirect and turn the entire trial into an indictment on the LAPD and race relations. As you know, they were extremely effective.

In addition to the prosecution and defense, we see the story from Robert Kardashian's side, who was Simpson's friend and lawyer as well as, on his defense team, but battling the idea that he believes his friend his innocent.

The People Vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story is well-crafted and thorough. I had just finished ESPN's 30 for 30 series O.J.: Made in America before I started this one, so there might have been some newness taken away from some of the information for me, lessening the shock of some of the things that happened. However, it was well told by the veterans Alexander and Karaszewski.

Where it falters is the feeling that everyone here is play acting. It's kind of unfair because the characters are so well-known, and the odds are stacked against them, but there is an air of silliness hanging over some of the characterizations. Chief among those is John Travolta's Bob Shapiro, who is so crazily over the top, he seems like he is acting in a completely different show. Courtney B. Vance had an excuse to go over the top with Johnnie Cochran, a larger than life character, but he is very controlled, right where he needs to be. Paulson got the Emmy for her performance, and it is well-deserved as usual for her. Her Clark, along with Brown's Christopher Darden are the morality of the whole thing, and they handle the immense stress put upon them well. They really have no choice once this thing gets out of control, and they wear weathered well.

Rating: ***

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