The Trial of O.J. Simpson Offers New Round of Must-See TV

Docudrama miniseries revisits America's most-famous court case.


"The People v. O.J. Simpson," FX

The People v. O.J. Simpson. FX. Tuesday, February 2, 10 p.m.

Trials of the century almost never live up to their billing. They consume us for a few days, then are quickly forgotten, and obscure arcana that we thought would be embedded in our collective consciousness until the sun burns out turn out to be, well, obscure arcana. Anybody out there still remember who Joel Fort was? Or the location of the Au Bar? So it goes with the indelible political and social lessons the trials supposedly teach; hard cases make bad law and worse aphorisms. The rape trial of William Kennedy Smith—oops, spoiler alert on that Au Bar question—was supposedly going to change the way America thought about sexual assault. Instead, it mostly affirmed the widely suspected axiom that unraveling diametrically opposed accounts of the same incident by two hopelessly inebriated participants is pretty much impossible.

The gigantic exception to the rule is the O.J. Simpson trial, two decades past and yet still acidly etched on our brains, as you will surely discover if you watch FX's preposterously engrossing The People v. O.J. Simpson, the 10-hour first season of an anthology series called American Crime Story.

The year-long trial was a collision of America's growing racial divide and its deepening fascination with celebrity. It raised issues about the judicial system's handling of domestic abuse cases. It marked the introduction of the 24-hour news cycle and paved the way for video lynchmistress Nancy Grace and her like. It was an incisive anthropological examination of racism in the Los Angeles Police Department and evolutionary sexual behaviors in West L.A. (remember the "Brentwood Hello"?) that might be coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

And it was, undeniably, first-rate entertainment, a gripping murder mystery peopled with characters drawn from everything from classic Greek tragedy—surely Achilles and Oedipus would have loved to have a drink with Simpson—to Monty Python (hello, Kato Kaelin).

All of the above and much more are present in People v. O.J., a remarkable piece of work that carves muscular narrative lines though the tangled legal thickets of the trial while keeping a delicate touch on the chiaroscuro of its characterizations. If ever there was such a thing as must-see TV, this is it.

A word of caution: What People v. O.J. is not is a documentary. It includes composite characters and invented dialogue and has no qualms about using dramatic license to drive home a point. No prosecutor collapsed with a heart attack during defense attorney Johnnie Cochran's courtroom theatrics. And if Cochran really did tell Simpson at their first meeting, "If we get one black juror, just one, I give you a hung jury," I've never come across it in any of the exhaustive reporting of the case. We're not talking Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter here, but neither is it Court TV.

That said, some of the most seemingly fantastical moments in People v. O.J. are actually genuine. Cochran really did, after partnering in an elaborate and utterly bizarre courtroom kabuki with prosecutor Christopher Darden over who hated the N-word more (both men are black), whisper to him the kill shot: "Nigger, please."

That moment was some of kind of apex, or perhaps nadir, in the racial agitprop that tinged the Simpson trial and functions as the ubertext of People v. O.J. As the show makes clear, nobody had to play a race card in this trial; the subject was inevitable. Los Angeles was just two years past the murderous rioting following the acquittal of four white cops for the savage beating of a black speeder named Rodney King. Simpson himself, a football hero turned business success, was the most famous black man in America, while the two victims (Simpson's ex-wife Nicole and Ron Goldman, a waiter returning a pair of glasses her party had left at a restaurant minutes before the killings) were white.

People v. O.J. follows both legal teams as they set about manipulating the demographics of the trial jury. The defense angles for as many black jurors as possible; the prosecution, for as many women, confident that gender identity politics would trump those of race when testimony of Simpson's physical abuse of Nicole unfolded. Marcia Clark, the chief prosecutor, also believes she had a special connection to black women, which turned out to be true: "She seems like a bitch," said one in a jury-selection test group after being shown tapes of Cross in action.

Thanks to accounts like New Yorker correspondent Jeffrey Toobin's The Run of His Life (from which People v. O.J. is loosely adapted), it's Simpson's attorneys who in public memory were almost entirely responsible for turning the trial into a race-baiting spectacle. But Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story), who directed most of People v. O.J., and Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, The People v. Larry Flynt), correctly see race as a weapon wielded by nearly everybody involved in the case, including the press: Time magazine even electronically darkened Simpson's mug shot for its cover to make it scarier to (white) readers, a fact that became manifestly obvious when Newsweek used the same photo, undoctored, on its cover.

About the only post-racial character in People v. O.J. is, ironically, the Juice himself, who initially resists Cochran's attempts to paint the case, literally, in black and white. "I'm not black, I'm O.J.!" he cries at one point. Once upon a time, a wish to be defined by something other than skin color would have been thought quintessentially American, but predictably, it earned Simpson only quiet derision from his own defense team, while prosecutors were confident it could be used against him as a weapon. In one scene, Darden argues with his black neighbors that Simpson isn't one of them, that marrying a white woman and living in the suburbs made him a race traitor. To Darden's surprise, they don't buy it. "He's got the cops chasing him," retorts one. "He's black now."

People v. O.J.'s captivating exploration of the trial's racial dynamics is equaled by its portrayal of the complicated and often prickly personalities on the legal teams, riven by personal jealousies, professional insecurities and ruthless ambition careerism. The most interesting of them is the prosecution's Clark. She's played by Sarah Paulson, part of the repertory company Murphy has assembled for his anthology American Horror Story series. In five seasons, she's played everything from homicidal Siamese twins to a lovelorn junkie ghost and has become one of the most compelling actresses in television today.

Her Clark is an imperious careerist so thoroughly undone by her own arrogance that she actually turns sympathetic. The predatory leer that flashes across her face in the first episode when she's picked to prosecute an American icon has turned by the sixth into wan defeat. Battered by everything from an ex-husband's release of old topless photos to public disdain for her shifting hairstyles, she confesses: "I'm not a public personality."

Across the courtroom, the high-powered attorneys that Simpson calls his "dream team" and who Clark with equal accuracy refers to as "a dozen alpha dogs in a cage match" are hopelessly fractured by disputes over tactics and unchecked egos. The not-always-passive aggression between Cochran (Courtney Vance, Law & Order: Criminal Intent), the baronial Robert Shapiro (John Travolta), criminal defense superstar F. Lee Bailey (Nathan Lane, The Birdcage) and Harvard scholar Alan Dershowitz (Evan Handler, Californication) is an exercise in spectacular bitchery. "I like Alan," says Bailey of Dershowitz. "But he's a smug son of a bitch. Every 15th word is Harvard." Moments later Dershowitz enters the room, and right on cue… .

Caught in the middle is Robert Kardashian (nicely played by David Schwimmer of Friends), a close personal friend of both O.J. and Nicole who believes Simpson could not have committed such a savage act but is tormented by each new piece of evidence to the contrary. He's also appalled by the broad streak of media whoredom that the case uncovers among his friends, who jostle for position with TV talk-shows and cash-for-trash publishers. "In this family, being a good person and loyal friend is more important than being famous," he lectures his young daughters Kourtney and Kim, who apparently that day were playing that old childhood favorite, Opposite Day.

NEXT: Obama Takes New Steps to Fix Gender Pay Gap: Why That's Still a Mistake

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  1. I saw the original one when it first aired, I don’t need to see a dramatization of it.


      1. There’s a bloody glove involved, and that glove is very important.

        1. Marcus Allen was bangin’ mad ladies.
          Ron Goldman’s mustache was a sight to be seen.

          1. F. Lee Bailey and the LAPD say nigger a whole lot.

            Seriously, that’s like my only memory of this trial. F. Lee Bailey asking Mark Fuhrman about his use of the N word, over and over again.

            1. He asked him Marine to Marine if he had ever said the word nigger. And he kept a flask on the defense table! F. Lee was awesome.

              1. The world used to run on high-functioning alcoholics.

                Hell, the entire civil war was WON by high-function alcoholics.

                1. In the time of cholera one had to be a high-function alcoholic just to make it to the age of majority.

  2. it mostly affirmed the widely suspected axiom that unraveling diametrically opposed accounts of the same incident by two hopelessly inebriated participants is pretty much impossible.

    Well, except for the fact that the rape victim had a really, really shitty story, there’s that.

  3. I remember that when OJ was found innocent, there was a lot of people in my midst saying that, “Well, OJ will never do anything criminal again– even if he was guilty, this was a one-off!”

    Uhuhuhuhuhuhuhuh. Turns out OJ was probably a lot like that beatch that attacked the Uber driver. This wasn’t some kind of one-of-a-kind even that she’s ashamed of. That’s more than likely the way that bitch is– this was just the first incident where she got caught.

    1. He wasn’t found innocent.

  4. “In this family, being a good person and loyal friend is more important than being famous,” he lectures his young daughters Kourtney and Kim

    Well now we know why his wife left him for Jenner

  5. I know I’m getting all my comments in before the rush but uh, I think a little more attention to the weirdness that was Kato Kaelin could have been paid.

    1. Speaking of that, does anyone have a guest house I can live in indefinitely? I promise to not be helpful when called to testify against you.

      1. I have a basement. I could use a corroborating witness.

  6. OT: The predictable Gawker response to the Koch anti-poverty group annoucement

    If I taught science classes to kids, and it made more kids want to be scientists, that means I am pro-science, right? Would you say I am hostile to science? NO! NAY, NEVER!

    Yet, the Koch Brothers want to create more poor people, and you describe them as “hostile” to poor people. Just doesn’t make sense to me.

    He said the group won’t veer into policy fights but instead initially plans to focus on partnerships with private groups addressing social problems, such as gang violence and high recidivism rates.

    Glad to see this trope continues. Why don’t you worry about the high opiate addiction rates in the hick counties that support your corrupt asses?

    SMDH. Fucking libertarians.

      1. Hey, I’m not any worse than Dongtorso and his ROK links.

        1. Yes, but you should really try to be a better person than Johnny Longtorso

          1. I can’t do it!

            I try and I try but I just can’t resist the siren call of progtards.

            It’s no surprise that they believe in charity rather than government action to alleviate the woes of poverty. They may even feel a duty to help the poor with charity, although their approach can hardly be called charitable. First of all, it presumes that the poor should depend upon the largesse of the wealthy (who, after all, know whats best for poor people) rather than having the right to not be poor bestowed upon them (or, if such a right is inherent, recognized) by the government. Second, it begins and ends wherever the benefactor says it does, and can be taken away by the benefactor at any time.

            This approach does very little, if anything, to help create the stability that is necessary to pull people out of poverty, and obviously $15 million isn’t going to get very far. I’m sure the money will be well spent, you know, only (or mostly) on truly “deserving” individuals and families, rather than “those people” who don’t deserve as much to be free of poverty.

            1. First of all, it presumes that the poor should depend upon the largesse of the wealthy (who, after all, know whats best for poor people)

              That’s some tasty projection.

              Second, it begins and ends wherever the benefactor says it does, and can be taken away by the benefactor at any time.

              Just like welfare, or anything else “granted” by the government.

              1. That’s some tasty projection.

                Diffraction Limited.

            2. “First of all, it presumes that the poor should depend upon the largesse of the wealthy (who, after all, know whats best for poor people) rather than having the right to not be poor bestowed upon them (or, if such a right is inherent, recognized) by the government. ”

              LOL, the gap between how smart this person is and how smart he thinks he is is about the size of the Grand Canyon

              1. The right to not be poor….


                1. Ah, but they really do believe in that. Really. And I know it’s hard for anyone here (certain prog trolls excepted) to believe that anyone above the mental age of, say 12, could actually believe that.

                  Also, notice how they say “inherent” right. They can’t bring themselves to say “inalienable” because then they’d have to deal with the concept of limits on state power, also that would be quoting those old dead white slave-owning guys.

                  1. Exactly. They’re not poor because of poor fiscal management or bad career decisions. They’re poor because they’re being oppressed, OPPRESSED, I say, by wealthy people and Kkkorporations.

                2. The right to not be poor….


                  You know who else thought they had a right to not be poor? Slave owners. They were so convinced of that right, they believed it was perfectly fine to extract the labor of others’ against their will to ensure their economic fortune.

                  You know who else believes that they have a right to the product of your labor?

              2. I do like that particular post, just for the amount of projection, the number of straw men, and the appeal to motive.

      2. I did, and I blame Lee. It is a wasted click, though. This is what dickbag wrote:

        The Koch brothers are launching an anti-poverty group called Stand Together which “aims to raise $15 million this year”?a year in which the Kochs plan to spend close to $900 million to elect a president who is hostile to government anti-poverty measures.

        The War on Poverty is going to be fought, damnit, and it will be fought with your tax dollars, and it will be corrupt and useless, and it will all be overseen by the obese. That is how we do things!

        1. I still think my favorite Koch related leftist freakout was when left-wingers protested a cancer ward the Kochs were funding.

          1. Mine too.

            I read some of that article and I can’t find a single true thing in it. Every bit of that claptrap is projection and slander. But yeah, protesting their paying for a cancer ward tops even that.

            Kochs fund cancer ward for children: Proggies scream in protest

            Obama murders children: Proggies cheer to thunderous applause.

            They really are the worst kinds of people.

          2. Srsly? Linky? I’m not doubting you, Irish, but I want that for the ammo locker.

            1. Here you go.

              “But the new wing at New York-Presbyterian Hospital inspired a bizarre protest last weekend by activist groups including the NAACP New York State Conference, the New York State Nurses’ Association and the hospital-employee union SEIU Local 1199.”

              And here’s a hilarious post on Quora where someone is super mad.

              “MIT, as far as I know, is known for its ethics and moral values. Be it the admission process, financial aid, whatever. However, when it came to receiving the $100 million grant from the Koch brothers, why did MIT accept it?

              Those people have had extensive control over the government and have known to be involved in extremely unethical practices as shown in the documentary.

              How can MIT ever receive a single penny from such people?”

              Thankfully, people in the comments basically tell the poster to go fuck himself and that cancer research is more important than partisan squabbles.

              1. If that grin doesn’t say “swimming in gold coins” I don’t know what does.

    1. “Glad to see this trope continues. Why don’t you worry about the high opiate addiction rates in the hick counties that support your corrupt asses?”

      I’m not sure the Koch charities are supported by many hick counties, unless you think the billionaires giving money to these initiatives are hanging out in rural Alabama.

      Progressives really need to get their story straight. Are Koch charities evil because they’re all fronts for plutocratic greed or because all their money comes from racist hillbillies?

      Also, is this person arguing that the Kochs are racist because they’re trying to help gang addled black inner city neighborhoods? So it’s racist to try and help neighborhoods with crime problems have less crime?

      1. I think it’s best summed up as “Don’t step on our turf. We own the poverty argument and will kill to protect our moral authority over it.”

        1. ^This. And that’s a great point. They must be really rattled by this, which is a good thing. They will improve the efficiency of the state welfare system, at least for a time. Of course, such improvements may be as based in reality as the improvement in on-time trains under Mussolini.

      2. Progressives really need to get their story straight. Are Koch charities evil because they’re all fronts for plutocratic greed or because all their money comes from racist hillbillies?

        If you’ve ever read a screed by Michael Moore, he swerves all over the road on this issue, as to many angry lefties.

        Conservatives and republicans are all snooty billionaires living in luxurious gated communities!

        They’re all hicks living in shacks with dirt floors, but always keep one as a friend because he’ll help you fix your car!

      3. Aw, come on. What the Koch brothers actually do doesn’t matter. They’re capitalist. They’re profiteers. They’re intentions are tainted. They could cure cancer and they’d still be evil because their politics are wrong.

      4. I’m not sure the Koch charities are supported by many hick counties,

        I am pretty sure those a lot of people in those counties love getting their check twice a month, too.

    2. I clicked, and started reading the comments. I bailed out to save my brain cells.

  7. I like the concept of the series, but I have no desire to watch this.

    However, I just checked out the cast and saw that Nathan Lane is portraying F. Lee Bailey. How is that going to work?

      1. F. Lee was a gruff alcoholic; how is Nathan Lane going to do that? Now I want to watch. But I won’t, I won’t do it.

  8. Is this post sponsored content?

    1. technically, presponsored.

  9. Fuck this. You know what the OJ simpson trial did? It fucking drove Almost Live off the air! Fucking Lame, man!

      1. Er, did you read the article? I know the conventional wisdom is that OJ did it (a view I used to share), but that’s some seriously compelling evidence.

        1. If all of that is actually true as presented, then it seems pretty compelling. No idea how true it is, though.

        2. The DNA evidence is pretty damning. You’d have to buy into the whole “he was framed by the LAPD” bullshit to discount that.

        3. Considering OJ has shown to exhibit deranged violent behavior, I’m not buying it.

    1. The LAPD seems a little irresponsible for not having followed up on OJ’s son in 1994.

      1. That would be right up there with firing 100 rounds at 2 women delivering newspapers because they heard one hit the ground.

  10. The Colin Ferguson trial, overshadowed by OJ, would make for far better TV. Maybe not as a 10 hour series though.

  11. The title sucks. I like this one better: The Framing of a Guilty Man.

    1. How to Frame the Guilty

  12. Is it a “murder mystery” if you start off knowing the identity of the killer, as well as his method and motive?

  13. This year’s high school graduates were born after the OJ trial. This year’s college graduates were too young to remember it.

    1. But this is a remake. Those are all the rage with the young people.

      1. And it has the Kardashians.

  14. I wonder if it would have turned out differently if Kary Mullis was allowed to testify? DNA was pretty new at the time…

    1. Kary is a weird paranoid dude. Probably not a great witness , but PCR is pretty cool technology.

      1. He would have been a great witness, but he was disqualified based on past behavior.

  15. I don’t get a chance to watch much television, but my wife hooked me on this season of Fargo on FX. Hooray for second-tier cable television.

    1. I’d let Karl Weathers defend me, I can tell you that much.

      1. That character is a hoot. Stared down Chiang Kai Shek.

  16. Just now announced: 37 pages of Hillary’s emails won’t be released at all because they contain top secret info. Then a disclaimer: They weren’t top secret when Hillary sent them, they have just now been reclassified.

    Uh huh. Twenty dollars to a hole in a doughnut those emails show that hillary committed treason or put info about Benghazi on her server and that is what prompted the attack on our embassy.

    “The 37 pages include messages recently described by a key intelligence official as concerning so-called “special access programs” – a highly restricted subset of classified material that could point to confidential sources or clandestine programs like drone strikes or government eavesdropping.”

    Or gun running in Libya.…..-released/

    1. Of course the Clinton camp says they want them released, knowing they won’t be.

      If any of us had done what she did we would be facing a firing squad.

    2. SAPs are ALWAYS classified. At no point are they not. They would have been classified WHEN she sent them, and she would have known as much.

      1. You are going to have Hillary whether you want her or not, whether you need her or not. You are going to have her.

        Really, I don’t see how she can be president. Even if they run interference for her and rig the election, she will have no credibility. It will tear the country apart.

        This really is banana republic grade bullshit. I am just amazed.

        1. Her campaign is doing a great job of spinning this. They know the truth won’t come out for 20 years, and she’s running for president now.

          1. Hugh Akston|1.29.16 @ 3:35PM|#

            This year’s high school graduates were born after Benghazi. This year’s college graduates were too young to remember it.

        2. You are going to have Hillary whether you want her or not, whether you need her or not. You are going to have her.

          Define “have her”.

    3. Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon … said the process of vetting the emails “has been dominated by bureaucratic infighting” and that the question of classification comes down to an “interagency dispute.”


      For those emails that Clinton only read, ? she still would have been required to report classification slippages that she recognized. But without classification markings, that may have been difficult


      This is going to get really ugly.

  17. I have a very specific and intense memory of “The OJ Story”, or at least one specific moment in it.

    I was at a bar in Mamaroneck NY… summer of 1994, i was home from college, and i was working as a construction/painting contractor (sort of like College Pro only we did roofs and driveways and landscaping as well)… and we were watching the Knicks play the Houston rockets in Game 5 of the NBA finals.

    I was a big Knicks fan at the time and i was pretty sure this was the only opportunity they’d have to win a championship (it was Michael Jordan’s year of ‘time off’ to play baseball/avoid suspension for gambling).

    Anyway, its a close game and everyone is very much engaged with it….when suddenly the TV is showing a white bronco driving down the road.

    The sound was still coming from the radio coverage of the game (no one would listen to the TV commentators).

    Everyone is screaming “put the game back on”. The bartender tries changing channels….but everything is just showing the white bronco.

    It took 20 minutes for anyone to figure out why this car was supposed to be interesting. when they did, we wept and moaned,”FINE, BUT WHY WONT THEY SHOW THE GAME!!??” It never stopped. The game ended without them ever cutting back. The bronco just kept going, and going, and going, and going.

    I think at the time i said something like, “i can’t believe that they’re turning something so trivial into national-emergency news”

    I was young, and naive.

    1. I also have a very specific and intense memory of “The OJ Story”. The night of the Bronco run was the first time I got to 3rd base.

      1. You were young, and naive

        1. I know, right? Most of us had been to fourth base by then… at least.

          1. I bet you’d been to fifth base. And yes, that’s gay.

            1. I have gazed upon the base that is fifth, but never crossed it. Or slid into it.

    2. What a fucking nightmare!

      That’s almost as bad as the time I sat down to watch Almost Live and found myself watching the first installment of a hundred episodes of daily trial coverage!

    3. While watching the low-speed chase….

      My sister-in-law: “Hey look! They’ve posted a phone number that you can call into and leave tips. 1-205-California.”

      Me: “Uh, they’re traveling on Interstate 205 in California.”

    4. Best Halloween costume ever: A woman in Times Square dressed as a white SUV. When she turned around, it had a cardboard cutout of OJ simpson looking out the back window. Priceless.

    5. I lived nearby (Hartsdale) and was 7 at the time. I was at the supermarket with my mom and all of a sudden there were a lot of black people in the store and parking lot celebrating the ‘not guilty’ verdict. We drove home and my mom stopped and talked with two older black men who were painting our house. I remember how shocked and basically despondent they were that he had apparently gotten away with it. I don’t know, seeing two completely opposite reactions to the news has always stuck with me for some reason.

    6. Ha. Same, except we were watching the Wings and Blackhawks playoff game at a bar in Michigan.

  18. Years ago there was a geocities page with a conspiracy theory about how OJ was about to release evidence of the faked moon landing and aliens so the government framed him for his wife’s murder. I’m at work or I’d go searching for it, but the derp was deep on that one.Had something to do with him being on the set of Capricorn 6 and meeting a guy from NASA that had all the documentation. This movie should have incorporated that.

  19. Are they going to offer me the opportunity to relive my last colonoscopy too?

    No thanks I’ll give it a pass

  20. You know who else blamed the juice?

  21. “a gripping murder mystery “.

    A mystery means that there is a doubt as to what happened. There is no mystery here, only a cowardly, racial, bloody, brutal murder.

  22. That dude needs to get slam dunked.

  23. I forgot it was Reason till the statement: “surely Achilles and Oedipus would have loved to have a drink with Simpson.”

    Then the reality of the jejune exploded my reverie.

  24. there’s the narrative that the oj murder trial showed that black and whites viewed the world very differently. as i’ve gotten older, i mostly reject that perspective. there were many people of various backgrounds that just didn’t care about the fact that two people were dead, because it was a great show. i was one of those toward the end, and am still a little embarrassed by how i reacted to the verdict, but i was 15 or 16….youthful indiscretions and all. but the real racial difference wasn’t that blacks and whites saw the evidence differently. it was, in my opinion, that many blacks just didn’t care what the evidence was because oj getting off was revenge against the system. but i honestly don’t think most of the black population, if they were being honest, saw the facts much differently. there’s a distinction there that’s important.

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  26. Where’s Joey and Rachel?

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  28. Why is a black man playing the part of O.J. Simpson?

    It’s not a way to diversity.

  29. I have a theory as to why Simpson was acquitted. Fearing more race riots if Simpson was convicted, Gil Garcetti, LA County District Attorney at the time, told his subordinates to take a dive, to do all they could to make sure they would lose.

  30. So not interested.

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