All right, I admit it. Back in 1995 I was a junkie! My addiction lasted for nine months from Jan. 24 until Oct. 3. Every day during that period I would rush home after teaching my classes at West Liberty so that I could get my daily fix. No, I wasn’t smoking weed or snorting cocaine or shooting up with heroin. Instead, I was addicted to the murder trial of Orenthal James Simpson.
The butchered bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson (O.J.’s ex-wife) and her friend Ronald Goldman were found outside her condo on Bundy Drive in Los Angeles at 12:10 a.m. on June 13, 1994. The Hall of Fame football player was subsequently arrested and brought to trial for the murders, and a media circus ensued. For nine months people watched on television as one of the most publicized trials in history unfolded.
And what they saw was an embarrassingly incompetent judge named Lance Ito presiding over a bizarre trial in which an incredibly inept group of prosecutors led by Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden made a mockery of justice as they squandered a preponderence of evidence against O.J. What they also saw was O.J.’s “dream team” of defense attorneys that included Robert Shapiro, Johnnie Cochran, F. Lee Bailey, and Barry Scheck brilliantly win an acquittal for their client by playing “the race card” and seriously damaging the credibility of the LAPD.
As you might expect, in the aftermath of the trial prosecutors and defense attorneys alike sought to cash in by writing books about it. And a number of other authors published books on “the trial of the century,” but perhaps the best of the lot is the one titled “The Run Of His Life: The People V. O.J. Simpson,” by Jeffrey Toobin. The book was first published in 1996, and now it is the basis of 10-part TV miniseries airing on FX’s American Crime Story. Alas, my addiction has returned.
After watching just the first episode of “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” I’ve once again been sucked into one of the most fascinating stories in American crime. Although it does take some liberties with actual events, the show boasts an incredibly talented cast, and even though I’m only one episode into it, there is no doubt that it’s going to be a winner.
The first show in the series begins as O.J. (Cuba Gooding Jr.) emerges from his house carrying some luggage and approaches a waiting limo. He apologizes to the driver for being late, explaining that he had to take a shower and expressing his hope that they will be able to make his flight.
Now we switch to Bundy Drive, where a man is walking his dog and encounters an Akita with blood-soaked paws standing on sidewalk. The dog then leads the man to the bodies of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman, and shortly afterward police are summoned to the scene. During the ensuing scenes we meet three police officers who will figure prominently in the case: Det. Phillip Vannatter (Michael McGrady), Det. Tom Lange (Chris Bauer), and Det. Mark Furham (Steven Pasquale).
As word of the double homicide spreads throughout the Los Angeles area, additional key players in the unfolding drama make their appearance in the show. These include the following: District Attorney Gil Garcetti (Bruce Greenwood); Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson), who would be the lead prosecutor in the case; Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown), who would serve as Clark’s assistant; Robert Karsashian (David Schwimmer), who is a former attorney and a close friend of O.J.’s; Robert Shapiro (John Travolta), who is a well-known defense attorney and the first lawyer hired by O.J.; Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance), who is the flamboyant defense attorney that ultimately becomes the head of the “dream team.”
In trying to contact O.J., the police learn he is in Chicago, and Lange calls him in his hotel to tell him that his ex-wife has been killed. Following a brief conversation, O.J. says he will fly home in the morning. After Lange hangs up, Vanatter notices a strange look on his face, and when he asks him what is the matter, Lange says, “He didn’t ask how she died.”
When O.J. arrives back in town, he’s ultimately arrested and agrees to turn himself in at a certain time, but instead of complying, O.J. flees. After writing what appears to be a suicide note, he gets into his white Bronco with his close friend Al Cowlings (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) behind the wheel and begins what turns into one of the most famous car chases in history. And the first episode ends as the police discover that O.J. has become a fugitive.
Based upon the opening episode, the series looks very promising mainly because of its remarkable cast. It’s amazing how much the actors resemble their real-life counterparts, with the disappointing exception of Gooding, Jr., who looks nothing like O.J.
Simpson Gooding Jr.
On the other hand, take a look at these pictures, and you will see what I’m talking about.
Although the jury returned a verdict of not guilty on both counts of murder, the fact remains that the evidence against Simpson overwhelmingly pointed toward his guilt. In fact a different jury found him guilty in the wrongful death civil suit brought against Simpson by the Goldman family. In an interview that appeared in the Daily Beast, Gooding Jr. spoke about how Simpson’s guilt or innocence relates to the series.
“This show isn’t saying O.J. did it; he didn’t do it. We’re not about the verdict. We heard the verdict. They found him not guilty. But if you watch all these episodes, I truly believe everyone will say, ‘Of course they found him not guilty.’ That’s what the focus is: to show you the absurdity of the life events surrounding that trial.”
Also in the Daily Beast Paulson expressed her empathy for what Clark went through during the trial. By the time the verdict came in, Clark’s physical appearance definitely showed what a toll the event had taken on her.
“We’re talking about a woman who’s a civil servant, who was thrust on a national stage and was expected to weather all that with grace and aplomb. It’s just not possible to do. She just didn’t have that flashy Johnnie Cochran drama in the courtroom. She was just the mother of a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old, going through a terrible divorce, who was a prosecutor for the County of Los Angeles, trying to put bad people away. Then all of a sudden she’s being criticized for the length of her skirts, the style of her hair, how tired she was, the color of her lipstick. It was really rough from a female perspective to be judged and ridiculed that way.”
From what I’ve seen so far, I give “The People v. O.J. Simpson” a preliminary verdict of a tenuous eight, which could change dramatically during the coming weeks. The acting in the first episode was consistently strong, but unfortunately I’m having a difficult time buying into Gooding Junior’s portrayal of OJ. Aside from that, However, I am really enjoying revisiting that incredibly fascinating case.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if during the final episode in the series, the jury found O.J. guilty as charged? Now then the show would be a 10!
role and the events of 20 years ago.
Because of that, “I feel so much empathy for what she went through,” she said. “We’re talking about a woman who’s a civil servant, who was thrust on a national stage and was expected to weather all that with grace and aplomb. It’s just not possible to do.”
“She just didn’t have that flashy Johnnie Cochran drama in the courtroom,” she went on. “She was just the mother of a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old, going through a terrible divorce, who was a prosecutor for the County of Los Angeles, trying to put bad people away. Then all of a sudden she’s being criticized for the length of her skirts, the style of her hair, how tired she was, the color of her lipstick. It was really rough from a female perspective to be judged and ridiculed that way.”
Both Paulson and Gooding—and everyone involved in the project who have spoken about it thus far—were also insistent on another crucial thing: the surprising relevance that the trial, its ensuing frenzy, and the culture wars and debates that it caused still has today. That, they say, will be a very big part of American Crime Story.