‘THE People V. O.J. Simpson’ is an FX mini-series about the murder cases filed against Orenthal James Simpson, an iconic football hero nicknamed Juice who went into acting and endorsements after he retired as an athlete. For viewers who may not know him, he did many movies, like “The Naked Gun” action-comedy series, and TV shows. He’s very popular then with the American public.
On June 12, 1994, his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson was found brutally stabbed to death outside of her home with a waiter, Ron Goldman, who was just delivering a pair of glasses she left behind at the restaurant where he worked. O.J. became a person of interest in their murders and instead of turning himself in, he tried to escape while in his Ford Bronco SUV. He was chased by cops and the manhunt was aired on live TV and it’s estimated that 95 million watched it.
The well crafted mini series is based on the book “The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson” by Jeffrey Toobin and has ten episodes, all expertly written and incisively directed. The acting is also exceptional, making this a true masterpiece about a crime story and legal battle.
We already know the outcome of the trial, but many episodes still managed to be an effective nailbiter. This is because the series is not just about O.J. but also about the lawyers who prosecuted him and those who defended him in an internationally publicized trial, which is fueled by Simpson’s fame but later on also generated fame for most of the lawyers involved, giving them celebrity status.
Leading the prosecution is deputy district attorney Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) with Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown) as her assistant. Clark discovers that O.J. has physically attacked Nicole several times before in certified cases of domestic abuse. She initially believed that it will be an easy case for them since she has so much evidence to show, like the gloves used in the killing and the blood trail in the home of O.J.
O.J. is initially supported by his good friend, Atty. Bob Kardashian (played by David Schwimmer), the ex-husband of Kris Kardashian (she’s also in the TV series as she’s a good friend of Nicole), who became famous for the hit reality show, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”, with her children led by Kim and her husband, Olympian Bruce Jenner, with whom she has two kids and who later on became a transwoman named Caitlyn.
Bob urged O.J. to hire celebrity lawyer Robert Shapiro (John Travolta) to defend him. Shapiro then assembles a team of other hotshot lawyers, eventually called the Dream Team. Later on they had to call in Johnny Cochran (played by Courtney Vance), a black lawyer, who is astute enough to recognize early on it that they could only win if they would make the trial about racism.
The defense lawyers are quarreling among themselves (specially Shapiro and Cochran), but they are one when it comes to exploiting situations to their advantage. Clark’s team are sure the evidence of the bloodied gloves and the testimony of L.A. Det. Mark Furhman would be to their advantage, but the defense twisted everything, specially after Fuhrman is proven to be a racist who has no qualms in torturing black suspects.
The personal lives of the lawyers are also shown. All of them have secrets and are flawed. Clark is going through a bitter divorce, fighting for the custody of her two sons. Even the way she dresses and does her hair is scrutinized in the media. Cochran, in turn, is also confronted with his own cases of domestic violence against his first wife.
There’s also an episode that focuses on the members of the jury, some of whom have difficulty coping with their sequestration inside a hotel during the whole length of the trial which ran for more than a year. Some of them were dismissed for lying during their initial screening.
The judge handling the case, Lance Ito (Kenneth Choi), was also branded a media whore, allowing cameras into the courtroom for daily live telecast. It also turns out that his wife, a captain in the LAPD, is also the object of hate of Det. Fuhrman.
Of all the defense lawyers, it is only Robert Kardashian who finds himself unable to believe Simpson’s innocence because of all the evidence against him and the fact that there are no other suspects. The other lawyers couldn’t care less and just want to win the case in O.J.’s favor. And win it, they did, making O.J.’s fans celebrate and rejoice. In the end, Kardashian eventually had a falling out with O.J. and severed all his ties with him.
The families of the two victims later filed a civil suit against him and this time, O.J. was convicted in 1997, with the court ordering him to pay $33 million for compensatory and punitive damages. But he paid only very little, then moved to Miami, Florida to avoid paying any more of the liability judgment.
In 2007, he was arrested in Las Vegas on charges of armed robbery, burglary and kidnapping, for which he was convicted and sentenced to 33 years in prison. He served his sentence in Nevada and was granted parole in 2017. He’s now 73 years old and is still living in Nevada.
The meticulously written mini-series shed a lot of light on the facts in hindsight. It won the Emmy for best mini-series and won several acting awards, notably best actress for Paulson, who also won in the Golden Globe and the Screen Actors Guild. And she most certainly deserves it for giving a finely nuanced portrayal of the embattled lawyer.
She’s superbly supported by Sterling K. Brown as her assistant and Courtney Vance as the wily, and at times hilarious, Cochran. All the other smaller roles are well cast, except for John Travolta who appears very mannered starting with his eyebrows, and the title roler. Yes, Cuba Gooding Jr. (who won the Oscar for “Jerry Maguire”) is not at all convincing as O.J. He not only doesn’t look like O.J. but he lacks the real O.J.’s larger than life presence charisma. Also, his whiny voice can be annoying and is so far from O.J.’s deep, commanding tones.