“You all saw the Bronco. But you weren’t in it.”
And for a show that promised an inside look at what really went down in the ‘trial of the century,’ The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story is extremely satisfying, not to mention well crafted and relevant.
The promotion of FX’s newest bid for genius and critically acclaimed content was a bit heavy-handed, but it did the job of sparking intrigue. Creators Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski are already veterans at biopics (The People vs. Larry Flynt), and with Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story) acting as executive producers, this installment of the new anthology crime-drama was, and is, an exciting prospect.
If you were born before or around 1994, chances are you’ve at least heard of the gruesome murders that took place that year in Brentwood, Los Angeles, when Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were found dead outside of Brown’s home. Her ex-husband, former NFL star O. J. “The Juice” Simpson, became the primary suspect after detectives found some damning evidence: a trail of Brown’s blood leading into his house, traces of her blood inside his white Ford Bronco and a black glove found on his property, the exact type Brown had given him several pairs of.
“He didn’t ask how she died,” a detective says to a colleague after notifying Simpson of Brown’s murder.
In a hotel room in Chicago, Simpson, played by Cuba Gooding Jr., both sounds and looks like he has something to hide.
“From the Ashes of Tragedy” is a pilot contextualized by a familiar incident police brutality, this time against Rodney King in 1991, which sparked the L.A. riots of 1992. The drama, based on Jeffrey Toobin’s book The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson, thrusts you into a story with surprising relevancy that speaks more to the cultural and social issues of the time than the victims of the tragedy. But the narrative, as it did in 1994, suggests nothing more than Simpson’s guilt.
Gooding approaches this role like the Academy Award-winner he is, with nuance and subtlety. His spot-on imitations of a man befuddled by his sudden loss of fame and status are visceral and sometimes painful to watch, but Gooding’s Simpson is like a train wreck: you can’t look away. Even more heartbreaking is his friendship with Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer), as the former attorney is roped into defending his close friend and hero. His role, which he even met with Kris Jenner to discuss, is one of the countless breakout performances.
“He got away with beating her. He is not getting away with killing her,” says Deputy District Attorney Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson), speaking about the numerous 911 calls made about Simpson’s many physical altercations with his ex-wife.
A single-mother soon to be divorcée, Clark is played by an excellent Paulson, to the point where you’re not sure if that mop of curly hair really is the real Marcia Clark portraying herself.
The pilot takes you on a drive through all of the turns and curves of this famous trial, from the media releasing footage of Simpson in handcuffs, to his terrifyingly jovial interview with police all the way through his supposed emotional breakdown and attempted suicide. After writing several letters and a will, the disgraced man reveals a gun to Kardashian in one of the few moments where you actually feel something for Simpson. Even John Travolta’s comical eyebrows, as he plays civil litigator Robert Shapiro, don’t ruin the serious turn of events when Simpson escapes in his Bronco, leading to that now infamous car chase.
With an all-star cast — including underutilized actors Bruce Greenwood, Courtney B. Valance, Sterling K. Brown and Selma Blair — this first season of American Crime Story will surely continue to pack an emotional punch with its visceral storytelling.
Follow Sara Snoddy on Twitter at @Sara_Snoddy.
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