One episode into “The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story,” and it is already clear that we are looking at a show that will make a name for itself come awards season. It has a stellar cast, stellar writing from Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, and it further proves that Ryan Murphy produced shows have a knack for coming out of the gate extremely strong.
The main focus of this show is taking a panoramic look at the OJ Simpson trial, one of the most notorious events of the 1990s. In achieving that goal, it feels fairly clear to say that the series succeeds. The premiere touches on everything from the night Nicole Brown Simpson died to when Robert Shapiro arrived on the scene to win Simpson decided to flee the scene moments before his arrest in his infamous white Bronco. All of it was told with a delicate touch, allowing you to form more of your own opinions rather than assuming guilt on any one person.
For example, the series never tells you in the first episode that Simpson (masterfully played by Cuba Gooding Jr.) killed his ex-wife; instead, they even feature a scene between him and Shapiro where he proclaims he didn’t do it. However, they also present plenty of compelling evidence that he may have done it, from the evidence to of course the escape itself. They also establish Simpson’s inner circle well, including multiple people who are shocked at the idea that he could do such a thing.
On the police side of things, Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson, excellent as always) is the woman ready to have him behind bars for what happened, and her point of view throughout this episode is excellent. She does not see things in terms of celebrity, or in terms of the racial conflict that set up the Simpson arrest in the first place in 1990’s Los Angeles. She merely finds a suspect she believes to be guilty, and wants to prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law.
It’s hard to quibble with any one person in this first episode for what they bring to the table. John Travolta has yet another comeback performance here as Shapiro, while David Schwimmer is very un-David Schwimmer like as Kardashian. If there is one flaw with the premiere, it is the abundance of subtle reminders of what the Kardashian family turned into after Robert’s death. It’s almost as though Alexander and Karaszewski felt that viewers didn’t know that he was married to Kris Jenner, or that he had daughters named Kim, Kourtney, and Khloe. Other than a small scene with Kris Jenner (Selma Blair) at Nicole’s funeral, nothing felt natural about these moments. Everything else was a near-perfect illustration in our mind of the sense of panic and media-hoopla surrounding this case. It’s smart, serious true-crime, and while there will always be interpretation of key facts, this series does a tremendous job of throwing you back into that fated time in American legal history. An exemplary pilot. Grade: A-.
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