Whether you like him or not, every season is Ryan Murphy’s season for the past decade and next season may be his biggest one ever! Of course, American Horror Story will be back, minus Jessica Lange but with Lady Gaga for her very first starring role; meanwhile, he’s gonna launch Scream Queens aka American Horror Story meets Glee, minus the songs, which is expected to get a lot of buzz and hopefully substantial ratings for dying FOX; and in early 2016 he’ll bring American Crime Story, that could become HUGE for FX! The anthology series promises to explore a new real-life crime every year and Murphy decided to start big with the infamous O.J. Simpson trial that kept America breathless for months right in the middle of the 90s. It was tragic, fascinating and it is considered as the beginning of the modern tabloid age, at least in America. It also brought the Kardashian family to the world. And that’s… well… a curse for humanity we never recovered from.
Based on a book that was first published a few years later, in 1997, The People Vs. OJ Simpson doesn’t take any risks. The story as it is doesn’t need to be altered in any way (and I’m pretty sure they couldn’t do it even if they wanted to). It’s gold and it shows very quickly in the pilot script. It starts with real archive footage from the L.A. riots of 1992 when furious african-americans tore the city apart after another one of their own was beaten to death by LAPD cops, apparently for no reason. Then, cut to two years later, we’re by OJ’s side for the first time, a very nervous OJ sweating in his limousine, while a dogwalker is discovering the dead bodies of his ex-wife and fiancé in front of their house in another neighborhood. We’ve got everything we need to know in three minutes or so: OJ’s obvious guiltiness for a crime he must have committed (83% of Americans think he did it) and social context of the time, which sadly still resonates in 2015 with the Ferguson scandal, the riots in Baltimore… 20 years later, things haven’t change that much. The whole season, as the first two episodes make it clear, won’t only tell the story of the investigation, that was full of twists and turns and can only transform into great TV, it will also explain how OJ’s lawyers used the race factor to exonerate their client: he was surprisingly found not guilty (sorry to spoil those who didn’t know). And that’s ambitious, especially for only 10 episodes (with the second one being a crazy car chase “The Superbowl of car case” when OJ disappeared instead of showing up to the police).
We’ve got multiple perspectives. From the cops first, with the leading investigator being a woman -played by Sarah Paulson- who has a lot on her plate: she’s in the middle of a nasty divorce, she needs to prove to the men around her that she’s as capable as they are, if not more, and she needs to show to the people of Los Angeles that even a rich person cannot get away with murder, in order to restore faith in LAPD. Then from OJ’s defense team, with Robert Shapiro (John Travolta), a lawyer specialized in criminal defense AND celebrities, who doesn’t play by the rules and who is very good at manipulating everybody, so good he’s fascinating; Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer) who is a defense attorney but OJ Simpson’ best friend first. He was used as a volunteer assistant in the case. He’s married to Kris Jenner and he’s the father of a certain Kim… (who doesn’t show up in the first two episodes and probably won’t appear later if you’re wondering). He seems very incompetent and ridiculous at times, like this moment when he has to read a suicidal note from OJ in front of the whole press. I guess HE was really ridiculous. Or the writers want to make him look bad, and that’s disturbing. OJ looks ridiculous too, but he probably was. He acts like a scared child. My only fear is that his scenes turn out to be funny. I mean… this man did so many stupid things and mistakes… Good luck to Cuba Gooding Jr.! Last but not least: Johnnie Cochran, an African-American lawyer who’s the one who used the “race card” during the trial. We’re also introduced to reporters and OJ’s family members. There are a lot of characters but the script is written so sharply with everything happening so fast that we’re never lost and completely hooked from beginning to end.
American Crime Story: The People Vs. OJ Simpson is Ryan Murphy’s safest work since forever (but he didn’t write a thing, he’s just directing and producing). You can’t do anything with a true story, but it’s sober where they could have been more scandalous and polemic. It’s documented, precise, smartly told and it will probably be very well acted with such a terrific cast. As the OJ Simpson’s case was at the time, this show is already fascinating. How come this was never adapted into TV series before?!