Saturday, February 11, 2017

American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson Season Review

American Crime Story (2016-)
Season 1: The People v. O.J. Simpson - 10 episodes (2016)
Buy American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson on Amazon Video // Buy the Book Jeffrey Toobin's The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson
Created by:  Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Starring:  Sarah Paulson, Courtney B. Vance, John Travolta, Sterling K. Brown, Cuba Gooding Jr., Bruce Greenwood, Nathan Lane, David Schwimmer
Rated: TV-MA

My rating is simple, Watch It, It Depends, Skip it. Read my previous TV reviews!

The first season of the FX true crime anthology television series American Crime Story focuses on the infamous O. J. Simpson murder case of 1995 and is based on Jeffrey Toobin's book The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson (1997)

This is an amazing season of television. Not only is each episode utterly gripping, this is is based on a true story. It's unbelievable. Even if you know the story, this is worth watching.
The story is engrossing and the acting performances are unparalleled. While it doesn't side with the prosecution or defense, it provides numerous bits of hindsight.
There isn't a single bad episode in the run. Even episodes I expected to be a step down were just as good as the rest. You know where this ends, but the journey is spectacular.
Watch it.

The entire case happened just a couple of years after the L.A. riots. This was more than a murder trial. O.J. Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) was a hometown hero that made it. He was a stand out football player, but the trial quickly became what the case represented rather than the actual crime. The show references optics and that's what it comes down to. A successful black man is pitted against corrupt white cops. Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) utilized the racial tensions from the riots and in the city at large to mount a case in the trial of the century. This is a real case that most of us know, and we get to go behind the scenes and explore what we didn't see. This series is a commentary after the fact and it's riveting from start to finish.
Episode 9 - Prosecutor Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson).
The prosecution had what they thought was a slam dunk case that slowly but surely unraveled. They faced a dream team of lawyers that O.J. planned to use to buy his way out, and Cochran masterminded quite the defense.

This is an engrossing series. I just wonder if everything was true. There are small moments that add to the drama that while believable, make you wonder. All of the big story points are indeed true, and as one character mentions, you wouldn't find this many twists in a pulp novel.
The prosecution seems to be quite prescient before they do indeed make a few blunders. Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) is the passionate prosecutor that isn't prepared to be in the public eye. She also refused to listen to co-counsel Chris Darden (Sterling K. Brown) when he cautioned her to not put Mark Furhman on the stand. She urged Darden to not ask Simpson to try on the glove.

Much of this case is how things should work in the system versus the reality of the system. How it's supposed to work isn't always how it does work. 

Judge Ito made the controversial order that allowed video cameras in the courtroom. He's presented as attention seeking and unwilling to be decisive when needed. I had to wonder if a judge would really let the defense and prosecution demean each other during the case, but it does fit Ito's character.
Episode 4 - The dream team, F. Lee Bailey (Nathan Lane), Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance), Robert Shapiro (John Travolta), O.J. Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr.), Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer).
The show looks at the case from viewpoint of the prosecution, defense, and even the tabloids. The case was a black hole that overtook the lives of everyone involved. While jurors wanted to be involved and everyone was excited about the exposure, no one knew what they were getting into. This is a case where Clark's hair style is bigger news than witnesses.
While the series doesn't cover this, Judge Ito was the only person with a major involvement in the case that didn't write a book about it.

The show does a good job of weaving in the personal lives of those involved. It's never overbearing, providing just enough insight. While Ron Goldman is often overlooked, the show does argue his importance. While his death was overshadowed, he had family that would miss him too, that also wanted answers.
Episode 4 - Johnnie Cochran framing his defense for O.J. Simpson.
The casting in this series is amazing, though Gooding didn't quite fit the part. He never had the charisma I assume O.J. had, and he often seemed whiny. While I got used to him during the season, he felt like the only miscasting. He tries hard and his acting is solid, but he just lacks the screen presence. Maybe it's that we're seeing him as a broken man, but even in his scenes preceding the crime he lacks the 'it' factor.
Vance was spectacular, easily a standout. Sarah Paulson and Sterling K.Brown as Chris Darden were also great. While I've read criticism that he was too stiff, I like John Travolta as Robert Shapiro. It fits how I think of Shapiro.

At the 2017 Golden Globes, this won for best mini-series or TV film. Sarah Paulson won best actress in a mini-series, though Courtney B. Vance lost the best actor award. Sterling K. Brown and John Travolta were both nominated in the best supporting actor category.

While the music is period accurate, it often feels forced as the show trots out popular '90s songs. Thankfully the music is relegated to the introduction or conclusion of each episode.
Episode 1 - O.J. Simpson at the funeral.
The first episode covers a lot of ground and casts doubt on O.J. from the start. While his interrogation is suspect, the cops dismiss the inconsistencies because it's O.J. He's a legend.

Shapiro heads the defense and creates the dream team. Cochran is a superb tactician. He makes even standard requests seem absurd when he argues over how many hairs the prosecution can collect from Simpson for testing. The prosecution doesn't know how to combat Cochran, and even if they did, tehy aren't eloquent enough. Cochran will do anything to win. He's stone cold.
Episode 7 - Chris Darden (Sterling K. Brown) watches O.J. Simpson try on the glove.
The prosecution got outplayed. Clark warned Darden not to have Simpson try on the glove. It puts the case in the hands of the defense. Cochran was hoping the prosecution would pursue it. "If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit."

Episode eight focuses on the jury. I thought this episode was going to slow down the momentum, but it doesn't, not even for a second. The jurors were an integral part of the case and the show treats them as such. None of the jurors imagined they'd be stuck in a hotel room for eight months. The lawyers begin focusing on finding ways to remove jurors to shift the outcome to their favor. Both sides do it.

Episode nine is the Fuhrman tapes, a bombshell that crushed the prosecution's case, but also had the potential to cause a mistrial because some of the admissions had a direct connection to Ito. When asked if Furhman tampered with evidence from the O.J. Simpson case, he asserts his fifth amendment privilege.

Cochran wants the tapes made public because it confirms what the black community knew about some cops. Some cops target minorities, at least Furhman did.
Cochran made the case political. Darden's outburst at Cochran is spot on. This case wasn't about the crime, it was about the tension between the community and the cops. Cochran is self righteous, effective yet infuriating. Ito either can't see it or doesn't want to.

In the final episode, it takes the jury four hours to decide the verdict on an eight month long trial. Neither side expected such a quick outcome, they were planning for weeks of deliberations.
Simpson may have been acquitted, but life isn't going to go back to normal.

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