Tuesday, June 18, 2024

REVIEW: ‘The People V. O.J. Simpson’: The Trailers Don’t Do It Justice

THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY "From the Ashes of Tragedy" Episode 101 (Airs Tuesday, February 2, 10:00 pm/ep) -- - Pictured: (l-r) John Travolta as Robert Shapiro, David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian, Cuba Gooding, Jr. as O.J. Simpson. CR: Ray Mickshaw/FX
THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY “From the Ashes of Tragedy” Episode 101 (Airs Tuesday, February 2, 10:00 pm/ep) — – Pictured: (l-r) John Travolta as Robert Shapiro, David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian, Cuba Gooding, Jr. as O.J. Simpson. CR: Ray Mickshaw/FX

*Viewers expecting to see some kind of Lifetime Original Movie version of O.J. Simpson’s trial and the events leading up to it in tonight’s premiere of “American Crime Story: The People V. O.J. Simpson” will be pleasantly surprised by how much it manages to steer clear.

The 10-part miniseries is unlike any product we’ve ever seen from executive producer Ryan Murphy, the man behind the vamp of “Glee,” “Scream Queens” and “American Horror Story.” He directs several episodes, including tonight’s premiere written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. The series is based on Jeffrey Toobin’s book “Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson.”

First, the shortcomings.

There are too many forced references to the Kardashian children. Kim, Khloe, Kourtney and Rob are  portrayed by child actors in the miniseries. Their father Robert, stably played by David Schwimmer, was part of Simpson’s defense team and a close friend. We could’ve done without one restaurant scene altogether.

Also, it was a struggle to embrace John Travolta and Cuba Gooding Jr. as Robert Shapiro and Cuba Gooding Jr. They are over-the-top at times, but, what those performances lack in stability is eclipsed by the spectacular portrayals of prosecutor Marcia Clark by Sarah Paulsen and defense attorney Johnnie Cochran by Courtney B. Vance.

Paulsen skillfully balances Clark’s private insecurities with her drive to be respected in the courtroom. (Remember when the tabloids clowned her new curly perm? It got to her more than she let on.)

Vance pretty much steals the show, amplifying Cochran’s self-assured swagger as well as the finesse with which he deliberately played the race card toward victory. Sterling K. Brown (“Army Wives”) as soft-spoken co-prosecutor Christopher Darden also brings unexpected dimensions of quiet rage to the character, particularly when the issue of race creeps into the case.

The series may take several episodes to really get going, but it definitely builds. Anthony Hemingway (“Red Tails,” “Underground”) directs Episode 3 and 4, when Shapiro has to convince O.J. to hire Cochran and O.J. enters his “not guilty” plea. John Singleton takes over in Episode 5 – by far the best of the first six given to journalists for review.

Courtney B. Vance (L) and Sterling K. Brown in "American Crime Story: The People V. O.J. Simpson" (FX)
Courtney B. Vance (L) and Sterling K. Brown in “American Crime Story: The People V. O.J. Simpson” (FX)

Titled “The Race Card,” Singleton’s hour focuses in part on the tension between Darden and Cochran – and includes a well-known racially-tinged phrase said from Cochran to Darden that is sure to become a meme-laced screenshot the next day.

“We went there,” Singleton said of the scene at FX’s party for the series during the recent TCA Winter Press Tour. “A brother wrote the teleplay for my episode,” he revealed, referring to actor/screenwriter Joe Robert Cole.

It was reported earlier that Simpson still has love for the late Johnnie Cochran and doesn’t like the way his lawyer is portrayed in the show’s trailers. Lovelock doesn’t get FX, so he won’t get to see the full breadth of Vance’s portrayal. It will become apparent that Vance’s delivery of Cochran’s aggressive manner and proud cockiness makes them both the Cam Newton of the miniseries — exciting to watch because  they’re so damn good.

Also, those very traits served O.J. quite well on Oct. 3, 1995, so what exactly is he complaining about?

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