TV Review: ‘The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story’

THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN
Courtesy of FX

Nobody needs to apply spoiler warnings to “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” Arresting from the get-go, the performances in this limited series are almost uniformly superb (with one glaring exception), and dealing with a true story imposes a level of discipline and restraint on producer Ryan Murphy and his collaborators that’s become a rarity in his other shows. Although “People v. O.J.” commits a few minor fumbles, almost everyone here has acquitted themselves honorably, in roles that, for the most part, fit them like a glove.

Adding context to the eventual not-guilty verdict, the series opens with the Rodney King beating and the civil unrest that followed. That distrust toward the police and justice system in the African-American community would ultimately become a vital part of the case, albeit one that prosecutors clearly underestimated in everything from their handling of jury selection to venue.

Of course, Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) didn’t exactly identify with the African-American community. Rich and privileged, he was almost certainly the most famous person ever accused of murder when his ex-wife Nicole and waiter Ronald Goldman were found brutally killed.

All of those 20-year-old events have been replicated in painstaking detail, from Simpson’s televised slow-motion Bronco chase to the LAPD investigators arriving on the scene. But what really makes “People v. O.J.” sizzle is the fly-on-the-wall treatment of the rival legal camps, including the squabbles within the so-called “Dream Team” that Simpson assembled to defend him.

That begins with Robert Shapiro, and without putting too harsh a point on it, John Travolta is simply awful in the role. Yes, Shapiro spoke in stiff, measured tones, but the actor’s overly mannered line readings turn the attorney into a buffoon, in sharp contrast to the more nuanced portrayals around him.

The other misstep, just to get the few beats of griping out of the way, involves Simpson pal Robert Kardashian. Although the part is nicely played by David Schwimmer, the producers indulge in sequences in which Kardashian lectures his daughters, long before their sex tape/reality-TV days, about the pitfalls of fame, which not only feels heavy-handed and somewhat pandering, but too cute by more than half. (Granted, it is sort of hilarious hearing him refer to O.J. as their “Uncle Juice.”)

Fortunately, everything else about the production more than compensates for those minor quirks, starting with Courtney B. Vance — in a role he was born to play, as Johnnie Cochran — and Sarah Paulson and Sterling K. Brown as prosecutors Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden, the former eager to sink her teeth into the case, the latter dragged into it despite warnings not to get involved. In one of the more telling exchanges, when Darden suggests to a neighbor that Simpson has had little use for the black community during the Bronco ride, he’s told, “He’s got the cops chasing him. He’s black now.”

Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski penned the Murphy-directed premiere, derived from Jeffrey Toobin’s book “The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson,” and the writing throughout does an extremely savvy job of humanizing the participants with personal details, from Clark’s marital woes — and her hurt feelings at having her looks picked apart by commentators — to Cochran’s hunger to get involved. There are also illuminating touches and stranger-than-fiction moments, such as the defense team transforming Simpson’s bachelor estate to make it more appealing to the visiting jurors.

Beyond the marquee names, “People v. O.J.” is full of delicious smaller roles, such as Connie Britton as Nicole’s book-peddling friend Faye Resnick and Nathan Lane as a blustery F. Lee Bailey. Indeed, the producers have cast and adorned the show so impeccably, down to even smallish roles, as to make these encounters feel incredibly present.

Perhaps foremost, the 10-part project (six of which were previewed) captures the circus-like atmosphere that polluted the so-called “trial of the century,” from witnesses selling their stories, to more or less conducting the trial via Larry King’s talk show. Moreover, this series has the advantage of being able to wryly present someone like Judge Ito (Kenneth Choi) perceiving the assignment as a huge career opportunity, when the viewer knows he’s going to wind up a Jay Leno punchline.

Ratings-wise, this has the potential to be one of the bigger draws FX has scheduled in a while, and similar to its cousin “American Horror Story,” “American Crime Story” is designed to live on, documenting different tales in future cycles. Still, like some of the football star’s greatest gridiron moments, this is one of those perfectly timed runs that should be hard to replicate — or equal.

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

(Series; FX, Tues. Feb. 2, 10 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by Ryan Murphy Prods. in association with Fox 21 Television Studios and FX Prods.

Crew

Executive producers, Ryan Murphy, Nina Jacobson, Brad Simpson, Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski, Brad Falchuk; co-executive producer, Anthony M. Hemingway; producer, Alexis Martin Woodall; director, Murphy; writers, Alexander, Karaszewski; based on the book by Jeffrey Toobin; camera, Nelson Cragg; production designer, Richard Sherman, Jeff Mossa; supervising editor, Adam Penn; music, Mac Quayle; casting, Nicole Abellera Hallman, Jeanne McCarthy, Nicole Daniels, Courtney Bright. 60 MIN.

Cast

John Travolta, Cuba Gooding Jr., Sarah Paulson, David Schwimmer, Courtney B. Vance, Sterling K. Brown, Nathan Lane, Kenneth Choi, Christian Clemenson, Bruce Greenwood, Connie Britton, Selma Blair, Steven Pasquale, Cheryl Ladd, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Jordana Brewster, Evan Handler, Billy Magnussen, Robert Morse, Rob Morrow

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  1. Joe says:

    I thought the move it self was.pretty good

    But I am very disturbed that in todays world of corrections and corruptions that I had to watch the Assistant district attorney in almost EVERY scene she appers in she is discustingly sucking a dam cigarette. Why was that so @@#@@#ing important the movie would have been the same without us having to watch that dumb look on her face sucking on that dam cigarette discusting and who ever came up with it accepted it and directes it should be highly ashamed of you selves. GROSS GROSS GROSS!!!!

  2. Rose Walton says:

    Well well well alot of the. Parts didnt fit and it really doesn’t mater if O.J. Simpson got out on a not guilty verdict. What is his excuse now?? He is now serving a 33year sentence for armed robbery and kidnapping. Which is sad because he was highly looked at by many people.

  3. BJ says:

    Cuba Gooding did not fit the part as OJ. He was not tall enough..not as good looking as OJ and too old. His features are nothing like OJ. Everyone else was OK except John Travolta

  4. Erica says:

    I thought that Travolta gave the absolute worst performance. He spoke as if his jaws were wired together and exaggerated his speech. There was also something really “off” about the look. Shapiro was nothing like him and did not talk like that. Cuba was so wrong for the part. Totally wrong. He had no resemblance whatsoever to OJ, so it was hard for him to be a believable character. He looked small and OJ was buffed and over 6′. I wonder how they came up with that? I think the actors who portrayed Darden, Marcia and Johnnie were spot on. They were totally believable and oh, I forgot Goldman. He looked so much like Ron Goldman’s dad, it was amazing. They just really went wrong casting Travolta and Gooding, which kinda ruined it for me. Rock would have been on point as OJ.

  5. Saw a clip on the news, which was Cochran saying something about Ms. Clark’s child care “crisises” (should be criises). Did he really say that? Or did the actor invent a new word? I know I have little to go on, but if the rest of the movie is this careless, I’m glad I didn’t watch it.

  6. david says:

    I watched half of an episode and switched channels as it was a major disaster to view. John Travolta,Cuba Gooding Jr., David a,k,a. as Robert Kardashian are terrible. It is surreal that this ‘A’ list contingent of actors be so horrible on the ‘small screen’ and their performance mirrors that of an afternoon soap opera ‘ at best!!! The characters are quite frankly boring and lifeless but laughable as well— Never mind the make-up,hair,wardrobe,etc which in essence makes them look and act like mere caricatures of the individuals they are so sorely trying to portray.A real waste of time………..

  7. Lee Ann says:

    I for one, remember hearing the announcement of this double murder. I watched the trial on TV, start to finish.
    So, to critique this series, what they got absolutely right thus far, Johhnie Cochran, Marcia Clark, F. Lee Bailey, Christopher Darden, Fred Goldman, Robert Kardashian (David is good, maybe should have used a smaller in stature actor), Faye Resnick.
    I love Cuba….portrays the temper perfectly. But, totally not believable because of his looks.
    Yes, they got Kato right also.
    Obviously so many items the public never got to hear….those snippits are believable.
    It doesn’t matter what I thought. Karma saw to that.
    Will watch until the end of this series.

  8. Lorraine says:

    At first I thought Chris Jenner was a producer because already there have been 2 Kardashian girl scenes and other references. But I don’t see her listed so I just think it’s a pathetic attempt to keep “someone” interested. Two episodes was enough for me. It is horrible, and I feel very bad for the Brown and Goldman families to have to endure this horrible, tragic event again.

  9. Lynn Cook says:

    Travolta’s performance and amateurish mask are so bad that it pushes the entire effort very close to camp.

    Love Cuba but precisely because of that affection am having a hard time seeing him as a butcher. He’s going to have to act his butt off for the remaining episodes to bring me in.

    Feels like Schwimmer reached into his Ross bag and pulled out my least favorite personality, the one that always left me wanting to tell him to grow a pair and made Rachel’s attraction seem improbable.

  10. Betsy Harvey says:

    Cuba Gooding is wrong for the OJ part. Should have cast the black guy from the sit com ” Last man on earth” Needed a more athletic/better looking OJ. We like Cuba, but not as OJ.
    The rest of the cast is perfect .

    • Sue says:

      Agreed. I love Cuba but he doesn’t fit the part. Dwayne “The Rock”, Brian White, Morris Chestnut would have been better choices as far as looks go. These guys are handsome and built like OJ . All the others look like the people they’re playing, but not Cuba, who’s playing the most important character. His looks alone make it unbelievable.

  11. Marlene says:

    John Travolta’s performance was just awful! Had a hard time watching him.

  12. giantslor says:

    “Of course, Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) didn’t exactly identify with the African-American community”

    Oh really? Because he was rich? I suppose no rich black person identifies with the African-American community? It’s not like most of them grew up in and still have family and friends in that community or anything.

  13. Susan says:

    Even the previews were exciting! I just saw the first episode and I was sorry it ended. I only wish it were on Netflix so I could watch all ten episodes at once; and I remember the case very well. All of the characters were so intriguing the first time, I am so looking forward to getting to know them better now. Travolta came off as theatrical, but in my opinion, his performance highlights the theatrical nature of the entire debacle. If I had to come up with one critique, I would have chosen someone better looking than CGJ.

  14. sanman$ says:

    Cuba Gooding JR. does not look or talk like O.J. Simpson or resemble him in any way shape or form. I met Cuba in a 2nd ave. discount drug store in NYC a few years back and believe me nobody would ever in a million years mistake Cuba Gooding Jr. for O.J. Simpson.

  15. ron says:

    OJ is a double murderer, abuser,thug, robber,and complete lier. Any money made from this mini series,should go to hes victims familys. OJ should have been executed, or at least made to spend the rest of hes sorry life in jail. He got away with it but will continue to pay up til he dies,and then after for sure.

    • Proctor no Gamble says:

      He was found not guilty the end. You nor any of the other racists commenting have any proof he did it. If you do please raise your hands. All you have is theories and conjecture. White people cant stand that he was found not guilty. I, for one, reveled then and I revel now. And yes; we celebrate his legacy not who he became later due to the white media need to find him guilty of something. The criminal justice system is a joke. And that’s not the black man’s problem. Have an issue with jury trails then lobby to change it. None of you will change the verdict. Y’all still butt hurt about ONE black man allegedly getting away with murder when millions of whites have gotten away with an atrocity. I do not feel bad. I just feel bad y’all will do anything to find a way to slander this man. He was found not guilty by the very system your ancestors created. So deal with it or have a seat. If the truth ever came out and y’all learn that he didn’t actually do it what would the white man do with his anger?

      Also this article is bias. Love how you had to set it up to make it seem like the only reason he was found not guilty is all the civil unrest in the world at the time. Please feel my eyes rolling. And I think Cuba, since you didn’t say it, is doing an excellent job.

      Oh and white people remember the Juice was y’all creation before ours so deal with his not guilty verdict.

      And a case from 20 years ago doesn’t have anything to do with black lives matter and or Oscar so white. Stop reaching white people you’re racism is showing.

      • Melinda says:

        Personally, I’m “butt hurt” when anyone gets away with murder. And quite frankly, your “tit for tat” view of the verdict, is offensive to the memory of the two innocent victims who never got the justice they deserved.

  16. pookysworld says:

    Kinda mean to Travolta.

  17. cadavra says:

    Nobody does this stuff better than Karaszewski and Alexander.

  18. Bill B. says:

    Seems a pretty harsh comment on Travolta to me, but I don’t care as I long ago began thinking he was a pretty limited & annoying actor. Odd that there is not a word about Gooding’s performance. I suppose this might be addictive if one starts watching it, but as someone who saw it all when it happened, I question if I will test that. The whole incredible ordeal was irritating from start to to finish ending with one of the most embarrassing decisions in criminal trial history, so why experience it again?! For younger people, it might be very fascinating, though 10 episodes might be pushing it.

  19. Guy says:

    Is there really an audience interested in watching this? Nothing new or fresh can possibly be brought to the table. And 10 episodes—uggg.
    No thanks.

  20. The CineDouche says:

    Nathan Lane as F? I am in!

  21. Carlton Kent says:

    Now, the #BlackLivesMatter and #OscarsSoWhite crowds can celebrate one of their great African-American heroes!

    • Proctor no Gamble says:

      Nah Carlton the juice was the white man’s perfect image. Your people created him. Don’t get mad because he was found not guilty. Also stop reaching. #blacklivesmatter and #oscsrsowhite have nothing to do with a case from 20 years ago. You’re racism is showing. Quick grab a sheet.

    • Chan says:

      LMAO! Too true!

      • Z says:

        Wow. the crowds? I assume you mean “blacks” who take issue with systemic and institutionalized racism…. smh

        Back to the show review, I also think its interesting theres no mention of Gooding’s performance. Interested to see how he did.

  22. Jecca Spence says:

    Faye wasn’t available to play herself?

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