Last night the first installment of the mini-series The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story aired on FX. Not wanting to sit through commercial breaks, I set my DVR and started watching after it had been on for about half an hour. I passed time painting my nails while talking on the phone with my cousin on the west coast. I reminded her to set her DVR so we could dissect it later this week or weekend.
At first I thought I taped the wrong show. The episode began with real video footage of the March 3, 1991, Rodney King beating at the hands of four police officers, before switching to footage of the L.A. Riots after the officers were found not guilty. A brief pause, black screen and white lettering stating “2 years later” and we see O.J. Simpson played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. exiting his mansion carrying bags and golf clubs to an awaiting white limo. Next, we see a man walking his dog discovering the bodies of a man and woman. The gruesome scene is graphically bloody and made me understand why there was a Viewer Discretion Advised message at the start.
I was in high school when the O.J. Simpson story broke. I remember regularly scheduled programming being pre-empted to cover Simpson’s white Ford Bronco being chased down the highway by multiple police cars. I remember nonstop media coverage of the trial and livestreaming testimony throughout the day for over a year.
I remember the many debates before and after the verdict was delivered. White people were angry; black people were ecstatic. I was flabbergasted. I thought Simpson was guilty when it all went down, and not once during the trial did my opinion waiver, as much as I hoped it would. I did not want this man to be guilty of killing not only an innocent man, but also the mother of his two youngest children.
O.J. Simpson was never a hero to me as he was to apparently millions. I was not a football fan. I only knew him because of his role in the Naked Gun movies, but Leslie Nielsen was the bigger star to me. I don’t remember seeing the Hertz car rental car commercials that the news said he starred in. O.J. Simpson just wasn’t on my radar.
I’m interested in this movie because it’s a dramatization of events that occurred and unfolded in my lifetime. It was a big deal. We talked about it in school. Oprah did a few shows about it. Life is better than fiction and I enjoy watching movies, documentaries and news shows based on crime. Thanks to shows like Dateline, I always know which crime Law & Order has “ripped from the headlines.” L&O takes artistic liberties and I’m sure People V. O.J. will as well.
The people involved with the series did a good job casting well-known and semi-lookalike actors for the part. Cuba Gooding, Jr. is one of the characters who doesn’t really look like the person he’s portraying, but I appreciate the performance I’ve seen already. Tapes of Simpson’s fits of rage were played during the trial and Gooding seems to have the anger down pat.
David Schwimmer has an uncanny resemblance to the original famous Kardashian. Schwimmer sports a patch of gray hair as did Robert Kardashian, and also plays the attorney as if he were both friend and fan of Simpson.
I had no idea Marcia Clarke was dealing with motherhood and a divorce when the whole debacle first started. I remember her being portrayed as hard and cold, but Sarah Paulson portrays her as being empathetic to the victims and being passionate about setting up a strong case against Simpson. I got a chuckle out of the brown curly wig and drawn on birthmark above her upper lip.
Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran was a good choice. Vance embodies Cochran from the glasses, suit, thick hair and mustache and the affectation of his voice when he speaks. Cochran spoke forcefully in court and to the press, and on those running Cochran Firm commercials that run on the regular here in New York.
John Travolta as Robert Shapiro strikes me as odd. Travolta doesn’t resemble Shapiro and the heavy makeup does not help. Travolta seems very stiff. His slow and deliberate speech is delivered through clenched teeth. The way he walks, sits and turns looks as if he has a broomstick attached to his back. I don’t know if that’s the way Shapiro is in real life, but it’s distracting. It looks as if Travolta is playing dress up instead of acting.
Selma Blair as Kris Jenner also wasn’t believable (I know this only because I’m guilty of having watched the early seasons of Keeping Up with the Kardashians). She makes a brief appearance during the funeral scene, but I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of her character in later episodes. The same can be said for Malcolm-Jamal Warner as Simpson’s friend, A.C. Slater.
The first of this ten-part series clocked in at one hour and twenty minutes. It’s a cheesy movie that, like Lifetime movies, ropes you in and forces you to watch even though you may know the story already. My excitement to watch the series is tinged with guilt because it can’t be overlooked that two people were brutally murdered, and because Simpson was found not guilty, justice was never served. I never read The Run of His Life: The People V. O.J. Simpson, the Jeffrey Toobin book on which the series is based. I’m sure it’ll have a spike in sales, but I’m fine just watching the series.