The Sunday Magazine: The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story

There are times I am not ready to watch something when it is being shown on TV. That was the case about a year ago, when the FX cable channel began showing the miniseries “The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story”. The beauty of the current day is when I am finally ready it is there to be watched. Over this long Holiday break, I went through the entire series to find something that was much different than expected.

My reticence sprang from having lived through the trial itself. We were on vacation in North Carolina when OJ Simpson led a police chase in a White Bronco on the LA expressways. From that moment, it was nearly impossible to escape the coverage. I found everything about the case and the attending media circus irritating even while it was being shown everywhere. Throughout the trial everyone involved were turned into two-dimensional caricatures who almost all came off as some differing shade of con man or fool. I don’t think there was anyone covered in glory when the “Not Guilty” verdict was read that day in the courtroom. I know it felt to me like the justice system had somehow become sullied. This was why sitting through ten episodes of television depicting this seemed like it was going to be depressing.

Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran

What The People v. OJ Simpson managed to do was to add in the nuance of personality to what were punchlines. Throughout the series, the people involved in this case mange to come alive in a way which recaptured their honor. Nowhere is that more apparent in the portrayal of defense attorney Johnnie Cochran by Courtney B. Vance and of lead prosecutor Marcia Clark by Sarah Paulson. The series showed these were people who not only believed in the idea of justice but their part to play in the system. It shows the flaws in both characters but it also shows the humanity which shaped both. Both actors deservedly won Emmy Awards for their portrayals.

Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark

The best episode is the sixth, titled “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” which concerns Ms. Clark and all that was going on in her life outside of the courtroom. One of the reasons I started watching this at all was a perfume reason. Ms. Paulson tracked down a 1990’s vintage bottle of Lancome Magie Noire to wear every day she portrayed Ms. Clark. In this episode Ms. Paulson truly does inhabit the psyche of Ms. Clark and turns that caricature into something to be admired.

By the end of the series the verdict was the same as it was in real life. Yet somehow it felt less like a pyrrhic victory for Mr. Simpson and more like redemption for everyone else. If you stayed away because of the subject matter, like me, I recommend giving it a try I think it might allow you to see something you thought you knew very well quite differently.

Mark Behnke