On Tuesday night, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk gave America the chance to relive one of the most high-profile murder cases in history with their new FX miniseries, “American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson.” The show was met with both high expectations and sharp concern. Would Hollywood be able to recreate such a vivid time in history? Or would the portrayal fall flat as a sad attempt at trying to capitalize on a notorious murder?
In case you aren’t familiar, from 1994 to 1995, the world stopped and tuned in to follow the fate of O.J. Simpson – famed running back – after he became a lead suspect in the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, his ex-wife, and Ronald Goldman, a waiter. The trial’s spectacle was so huge it pushed racial tensions to the brink. Even as the racial divide grew wider, the question of whether he did it seemed to loom over almost everyone.
After more than eight months of back and forth and the trying on of the infamous blood stained glove, the court system answered that question by finding Simpson not guilty — spoiler alert. I was born the month after the whole frenzy began. In fact, the victims’ bodies were found on my father’s birthday. Growing up, I was told the story of the O.J. trail as if it were an old folk myth of some sort — never fully being able to grasp the impact it had on the country. That is why I marked my calendar to watch this show.
The series opens with Simpson (portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr.) catching a limo from his home to LAX for a Chicago flight, the night he allegedly slaughtered his ex-wife. The scene is eery. If you’ve read the court documents of the case, or even searched wikipedia about it, you would know this scene plays a crucial time in the prosecutor’s murder timeline during the trial. That scene represents the last time the world saw Simpson as a hero, without the aforementioned looming question being tossed around.
From that moment on, the series begins to unravel and the plot thickens. We meet the slew of characters who were made famous in the 90’s trial, like Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson), Robert Shapiro (John Travolta), Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer), Johnnie Cochran (Courtney Vance), Faye Resnick (Connie Britton) and Kris Jenner (Selma Blair).
The ensemble cast seems perfectly hand-picked from the heavens — a television dream. However, from the get-go, it is clear who is carrying the series (hint: it’s not Gooding Jr.). Surprisingly enough, Paulson proves to power through as the case’s prosecuting attorney. Known for her stint on “American Horror Story” — the Murphy/Falchuk counterpart — she captivates the audience with her no-BS attitude. Her episode highlight would be her back-and- forth phone conversation with Shapiro. The pair on screen seem like a recipe for television gold (look at me, already predicting a few Emmy’s).
However, while the show has strengths, it also has weaknesses — for instance, the main character. I wasn’t around when Simpson was in his prime and this trial was unfolding, so what do I know? But what I will say is that Gooding Jr.’s performance falls mostly on deaf ears and seems basically like a missed opportunity for an actor to challenge himself.
That being said, only one episode has aired. I’m confident that the tables will turn with Gooding Jr.’s portrayal of Simpson. We’ve barely scratched the surface of the series. There are many characters left to meet who played major roles in the trial, like Faye Resnick, whom we meet briefly in the premiere episode.
Whether the series fizzles out over time or not, I’ll be watching. Not only am I sucker for hot topics, but I am also intrigued to know as much as I possibly can about this time in history that my parents refer to as “the O.J. years.”
“American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson” airs on FX Tuesday’s at 9 p.m.