Think about how much you would be interested in a new television drama if you already knew the entire story, even the ending. That’s kind of a deal-breaker, right?
And yet, there’s such a continuing fascination with O.J. Simpson and his trial for the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and waiter Ron Goldman that FX is airing a 10-part limited series that meticulously tracks the events.
“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” from executive producer Ryan Murphy (the man behind “Glee” and “American Horror Story”) is the first in an anthology series that will look at infamous crimes. With all the possibilities, Murphy and company opted to start with one of the most covered and televised criminal cases in American history.
Key dates June 13, 1994: O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and waiter Ron Goldman found murdered June 17, 1994: O.J. Simpson captured after a slow-speed freeway pursuit watched by millions on TV Jan. 24, 1995: Opening statements in Simpson’s murder trial Oct. 3, 1995: Jury delivers a not-guilty verdict
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Everything from the selection of Simpson’s dream legal team to the slow car chase on Los Angeles freeways to the not-guilty verdict has been recreated in such detail that it’s like watching 10 hours of Court TV reruns. It was the Simpson case that put Court TV on the map.
Part of the appeal of looking at the case again comes from the cast of characters who are so strange and unique that they are almost too broad to be believable. Add on the accents of being a television production and many of the players come across as caricatures.
Cuba Gooding Jr. never finds the right physical or verbal rhythms to play Simpson. His performance is odd, quirky and weird but never suggests the aura Simpson projected during the trial fueled by either the knowledge he hadn’t committed the crimes or the arrogance that he could get away with it.
The worst players are in the Simpson camp. John Travolta takes on the role of chief attorney Robert Shapiro. The real Shapiro had a very distinct and measured way of talking. Travolta takes it 10 steps too far, making Shapiro seem like a robot lawyer from the future who has come back to kill Sarah Connor.
Then there’s the almost comic performance by David Schwimmer as Simpson’s friend and attorney Robert Kardashian. The “Friends” star plays the role as if Kardashian had been reduced to a spineless blob with little will to move on because of some soul-sucking presence in his life.
Try not to laugh when Kardashian attempts to explain to his future sex tape star daughter that there are problems with being famous. Like that talk ever happened.
These off-the-mark performances are balanced by the work by Sarah Paulson and Courtney B. Vance as prosecutor Marcia Clark and defense attorney Johnnie Cochran. Both come across very comfortable playing characters the public got to scrutinize for weeks during the trial.
Part of the reason this is still an oddly fascinating story is the weirdness of picking who is playing the better-known players in the story. Selma Blair slithers into her part as Kardashian’s then-wife Kris Jenner while Connie Britton gives Nicole Brown Simpson’s friend Faye Resnick an almost American royalty vibe. Billy Magnussen gives witness Kato Kaelin just the right amount of brain cells.
The fact these players in a murder trial are as well-known as any cast of a reality show is what made the case such an attraction when it happened and keeps giving it life more than two decades later.
Don’t go into the production looking for any great insights. But if the characters are a perfect fit for this tale then you have to admit it’s at least fun to watch.
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
- 10 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2, FX