The Show Itself:
We can criticize this show for its “made for TV movie silliness” in spots, but to say it was a bad show would be incorrect. Ultimately, the show was what one should expect from an FX series: some made for TV silliness with some very good dramatic scenes. For every weird performance- Travolta as Shapiro- there were very good performances- Sterling K. Brown as Darden being just one. I have also heard people criticize some of the overly dramatic court disputes between Cochran and either Clark or Darden, but those of us that remember the trial know that these types of exchanges happened all of the time during this trial. I was glad that these monologues looked silly because they were silly. The OJ trial, which was an immeasurable tragedy for two families, was basically a reality TV series that was on every day for a year, and this fact made this show seem, strangely, like a dramatization of an earlier TV series. How often has that been done?
Why OJ Won
Without being too long winded, it seemed like OJ won because he had the resources and popularity to assemble a legal team that could depict him as a victim of a racially motivated conspiracy. Toobin argues that defense lawyers do not often live up to their folklore, but a team the likes of the one produced by OJ Simpson was too powerful (especially Cochran as a litigator; Sheck as the science expert; Dershowitz the brilliantly experienced jack) for any team of public defenders to overcome. Toobin also mentions correctly that the defense did not even attempt to disprove much of the state’s case, and they never presented an alternate suspect except to say that they thought the murder was carried out by drug dealers looking for Faye Resnick…and they still won! Public institutions can only do so much against these immense resources, although, Clark and the prosecution’s fatal (and most avoidable) error was not being more thoughtful about jury selection even though they had the preeminent jury consultant telling them that a jury like the one that was eventually selected would win acquittal for OJ.
The events of the show follow the narrative of Jeffery Toobin in the book The Run of His Life: The People v OJ Simpson, and said book is really engaging. Toobin was a lawyer for a period of time, so he had the credentials necessary to be able to criticize the trial and its participants when it was necessary. Toobin, also, covered the trial for The New Yorker, so he had the access (and exceptional writing skills) necessary to write a very thorough first-hand narrative of the trial. His objectivity and ability to give the tabloidal information its place in the narrative without taking over the narrative were strengths in his coverage. For example, he made his opinions known about Darden, who he thought was incompetent and childish, but he commented on the trial objectively as he gave Darden proper credit for his outstanding closing statement. My lovely wife also commented on the power of the (abbreviated for TV) Darden closing argument.
The seven-part ESPN Doc
ESPN will attempt to deconstruct OJ’s persona in the seven part series that, allegedly, argues that OJ was a narcissist of the American public’s creation. I’m looking forward to it.