The People vs OJ Simpson Is A Modern TV Masterpiece

100 things we love right now #77
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Occasionally, you stumble across certain pieces of television by complete accident.

You’ve seen no advertising, nothing of any note to set your series link. Just by chance your eye is drawn to something.

Well that is exactly what happened with me.

Tucked away on BBC Two, it wasn’t until I was searching through BBC iPlayer one evening that I saw an image of Cuba Gooding Jr being consoled by Ross from Friends. If that doesn’t make you sit up to take notice, then frankly, I don’t know what is wrong with you.

It isn’t often that I find myself drawn to BBC2. It seems to have lost its way between the mainstream programme that BBC One offers, and the edgier more slapstick programming that BBC Three has moved online to produce. That being said, they have pulled off a masterstroke with the rights to air The People vs OJ Simpson.

I, personally, am not old enough to remember the OJ Simpson Trial the first time round. In 1995 I was a mere 8 years old and was too busy trading football stickers (which I still do now), and wasting long sunny days playing football in the park (which I still do now) to notice the trial of a retired American Footballer. However, you cannot claim an interest in Pop Culture without having spent serious hours reviewing what started a double homicide, and evolved into a media circus.

It is the Don Corleone of 20 Century pop culture.

Without going into the details of the crime, the case, the verdict and the subsequent fallout, so as not to spoil the whole programme for those of you who have either not watched this yet, or have lived in a world where this has never ever entered discussion, let me set the scene.

June 12, 1994, the slaughtered bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman are found outside Brown’s residence where retired NFL superstar ex-husband OJ Simpson is named as the only suspect. Overwhelming amounts of evidence point to OJ and therein the scene is set as to what this drama will become. Prosecution vs Defence.

What we have here is fundamentally a courtroom drama. Following the first two episodes, where OJ embarks on his now infamous ‘run from the law’, the majority of this is set in a courtroom setting, whether it actually be within the confounds of the courtroom, or behind the scenes with both sides of the trial.

Episodes 1 and 2 are masterpieces, with the chase in particular eerily mimicking the real life events that occurred that day. The majority of the audience will have either been too young for this trial first time round, or living in the world where 24 hours news didn’t exist. It was a great insight into the drama of actually getting Simpson to give himself up.

Yet Episode 3 onwards are where the battle lines are drawn.

Setting the majority of your work in a courtroom setting can be a tough sell to audiences at times, yet the genius behind this drama stands solely within the character building of all the main protagonists.

We are introduced to prosecuting attorney Marcia Clark, sensationally portrayed by Sarah Paulson, and defence lawyer and civil rights activist Johnnie Cochran. The scenes in which these two are seen sparring against each other really begins to tell the tale of why this captivated America, and split the public like no other trial has managed to in history.

Despite only having 10 episodes, the characters are built with a wonderful patience.

The work of the cast, from John Travolta’s portrayal of defence lead Bobby Shapiro, to Cuba Gooding Jrs hauntingly believable OJ Simpson is nothing short of majestic.

Sterling Brown, who plays prosecutor Christopher Darden, alongside the above mentioned Sarah Paulson produce an on screen chemistry that makes the viewer genuinely believe they have been transported back in time to a behind the scenes look at the prosecutions plan of action throughout this case

Even the interesting decision to cast David Schwimmer in the role of Robert Kardashian worked. Once you managed to shake off the fact that this wasn’t Ross just getting in over his head.

However, the plaudits with regards to the cast must lie with Courtney B Vance, whose portrayal of Johnnie Cochrane is perhaps one of the best I have seen in a television drama. He deserves every plaudit and award that will no doubt come his way from this.

The minor criticism would be the portrayal of the murdered. Incredibly little back story was handed to Ronald Goldman throughout and you can’t help but feel at times he is a mere side note in what becomes OJ Simpson on trial for the murder of his ex-wife.

The production detail and direction allows you to be swept up in the media frenzy, it allows you to be truly horrified at just how much evidence was available to the jury, it allows you to be mildly impressed at the defences ability to bypass all the hard evidence and install their own rhetoric into proceedings, manipulating the jury with a mixture of clever storytelling and cleverly built racism rumblings.

The journey the viewer is taken on, from what started out as a double homicide case, and quickly turned into a race war between America and the LAPD.

This should, and hopefully will, be viewed as a masterful work of art. It should sit comfortably alongside television heavyweights.

It just goes to show, that if you have a great story, alongside some fantastic writing and leave it in the capable hands of a world class cast then great TV is possible. Hard to believe right?