Written by Hannah Dunleavy


Review: The People v OJ Simpson

Three episodes in to the real-life courtroom drama and Hannah Dunleavy‘s finding the tone somewhat jumbled. And if the glove fits…

Not so fast: Cuba Gooding Jr as OJ Simpson. Photos: Fox.

Not so fast: Cuba Gooding Jr as OJ Simpson. Photos: Fox.

Though I’m clearly old enough to remember the OJ Simpson trial, what I know about it is exactly this: not really car chase; bloody glove; Johnny Cochrane; media clusterfuck. Not Guilty. And to be honest, I’d have been happy to leave it at that. My Kardashian knowledge is less substantial still. And if anything, I’d be looking to lose some of that rather than take more on board.

The People v OJ Simpson is the first American Crime Story, a portmanteau series by the creators of American Horror Story. Essentially a mash-up of four popular staples of American television; it’s a courtroom drama about a real-life crime, with a subplot origins story about how a reality TV family got their superpowers. Starring John Travolta. You’ll understand that it kept slipping to the bottom of the reviewing list.

That said, The People v OJ Simpson also benefits from an enormous amount of residual goodwill from me, starring as it does, someone from my favourite TV series, Sarah Paulson; someone from my second, Robert Morse; the man who played my favourite-ever TV character, Chris Bauer; and Mrs Coach herself, her highness Lady Connie of Britton.

In truth, three episodes in, I’m still not sure what to make of it. Some of it is really very good. I’m just not sure exactly what it is and I’m not sure it does either.

“The scene where Robert Kardashian tells the kids there’s more to life than fame might as well have come with an irony klaxon. And a T-shirt.”

In parts, it’s played like a terribly earnest drama. The ‘role’ of Simpson is very much in Cuba Gooding Jr’s wheelhouse – he’s the go-to for playing walking erections walking like they’ve got an erection – and he’s certainly throwing himself into it. Nowhere more than the infamous car chase, which was so arduous I wouldn’t be surprised if he still has a headache. (Interestingly, the series is – so far – pitched straight down the middle; if you wanted to, you could see that scene as the last desperate move of an innocent man. Or, you know, as something else, like an incredibly weak man who thought he was above the law having California’s most disruptive tantrum. For example.)

The series also promises to tackle some weighty subjects like race, celebrity and attitudes towards women. Not least the media’s treatment of lead prosecutor Marcia Clark. (OK, I did know something else about this trial.) I’ve been impressed with Paulson so far, as she has a tough gig here, not only having to hurdle a 25-year-old public perception of Clark but also Tina Fey’s inimitable take on her prosecuting skills in last year’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

So, it’s a serious drama then? Except in parts it’s pretty soapy. And in others it’s pretty tongue in cheek. And then every so often it drops all attempts at subtlety and tips a massive wink at the audience.

This is most obvious in the plot about the new-found celebrity of Simpson family friend Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer), his ex-wife and young children. The scene where he tells the kids there’s more to life than fame might as well have come with an irony klaxon. And a T-shirt. (Man, it probably already does come on a T-shirt.)

Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) and Bill Hodgman (Christian Clemenson)

Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) and Bill Hodgman (Christian Clemenson) prepare to squeeze OJ.

There’s also Malcolm-Jamal Warner as Al (AC) Cowling, a long-time friend of Simpson who was at the wheel of the white Bronco during the world’s most famous slow-motion car chase. He originally auditioned as a member of the prosecution and while there’s no denying Warner, best known as The Cosby Show‘s Theo Huxtable, was also terrific in those in-car scenes, his casting means that a man who will forever be plagued with questions as to his opinion on the guilt of a fallen African American idol was being played by a man who will forever be plagued with questions on his opinion as to the guilt of a fallen African American idol. Which isn’t so much on the nose as wedged into your sinuses.

All that said, I’m still ‘in’. I’m keen to see Courtney B Vance flex his acting muscles as Cochrane and I’m confident Britton and Bauer will nail whatever it is they’re eventually given to do. Plus, I want to find out what happens to that Kardashian family. I confidently predict obscurity. Sorry, what?


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Written by Hannah Dunleavy

Hannah Dunleavy is the deputy editor of Standard Issue. She likes whisky and not having to run anywhere.