To echo what many have said, I now know what I’ll be doing for the next ten Tuesday nights. The People v. O.J. Simpson: An American Crime Story (FX Networks) is as incredible as everyone is saying. For viewers who lived through the spectacle, it brings back memories (“Where was I the night of the white-Bronco chase?”) and forces connections (an even closer look at the Kardashian family, which didn’t seem possible). More broadly and as the New York Times has pointed out, the opening scenes of the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots (mediated through TV news) set the stage not just for the investigation and “Trial of the [20th] Century” but for connections to police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement today.
The People v. O.J. Simpson is also a story about lawyers and lawyering, with a deeper view than anyone got in real-time, drawing from Jeffrey Toobin’s book The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson (interview with Toobin here).
There’s the distracted Marcia Clark cradling a landline and feeding cereal to her cute but ungrateful kids while she learns about the murders. (Actor Sarah Paulson told the Wall Street Journal: “I didn’t understand what I do now—that it was a great failure of women everywhere to not have come out rallying behind her in what was a real assault on her by the media.”) There’s Robert Shapiro holding court about his greatness in a posh restaurant when he’s interrupted to take O.J.’s call. There’s Robert Kardashian patting his friend O.J.’s shoulder, his eyes widening perhaps just a bit when Shapiro suggests that he reactivate his law license and join O.J.’s defense team. There’s Christopher Darden in an unguarded moment with Johnnie Cochran before either of them knows what is about to hit.
During the first episode, I tried to watch with an eye toward blogging something about listening. The most obvious scene was Shapiro’s show of meeting alone with O.J. to ask him if he did it. O.J. looks him back in the eye and says, “No. I loved my wife.” The police demonstrated some really poor listening and questioning skills in their early taped interview with him, sending Marcia Clark into paroxysm and foreshadowing trouble for the prosecution. (Later listening to the tape, an officer notes how hard it is to question a famous guy like The Juice.) Yet there’s the initially positive and collaborative environment within the prosecutors’ legal team, fueled by confidence at the story they perceived to be coming together.
By the end of the episode, however, I turned off the analytical brain and just watched. Even now, it was too much. How did this all happen? I couldn’t parse it objectively from a distance. And I guess that’s the problem and one of the show’s essential points.