Gruesome Histories Make For Harrowing Tales in ‘American Crime Story’

THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY "From the Ashes of Tragedy" Episode 101 (Airs Tuesday, February 2, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: (l-r) Cuba Gooding, Jr. as O.J. Simpson, Joseph Buttler as Polygraph Examiner. CR: Ray Mickshaw/FX

3.5 stars

Over the past 10 years, the crime-drama formula has panned out well for primetime American television. Whether it’s the gritty themes of Law and Order: SVU, Mark Harmon’s breakout hit NCIS, or even the latest Netflix-based craze, Making A Murderer, television audiences can’t seem to get enough of the dark side of humanity. It is in this environment that American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson thrives, and if it can shore up its various shortcomings, it has the opportunity to catapult itself to the very top of today’s TV scene.

The first two episodes certainly have an initial leg up in the personnel department. Primarily starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. as O.J. Simpson himself, the show possesses a lengthy docket of time-tested celebrities. The strongest performance, beyond any doubt, is Gooding, Jr.’s, but he is well-supported by others: John Travolta (as defense attorney Robert Shapiro) and David Schwimmer (as Robert Kardashian) both live up to their fame, even if these aren’t their most top-notch performances.

In particular, Schwimmer as Kardashian is a remarkably bold casting choice—it becomes difficult to separate Schwimmer from his previous roles, but he performs adequately with the material he has. One final role stands out in particular: Sarah Paulson, portraying Simpson’s prosecutor, Marcia Clark. She is only a single notch behind Gooding, Jr.’s knockout portrayal, which will very much help to keep the show chugging along its 10-episode run.

Even with a full cast list, however, American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson fights an uphill battle from the very beginning. By creating a show based on well-known, real-world crime, FX has created a compelling dichotomy: on one hand, viewers of American Crime Story gain a unique insight into the life of O.J. Simpson, but on the other, those who are familiar with the nationally followed court case will experience little to no suspense.


 


Moving forward, this is the challenge of the show—to stay both compelling and profitable, the writers must continue to paint the pre-existing story in an ever-more interesting light as each episode passes. It is safe to say that American Crime Story has started off on the right foot, but it remains to be seen whether this will continue to be the case.

For the moment, it would seem as though American Crime Story’s primary strategy is to look inside the mind of O.J. Simpson. One of the most mortifying scenes of the program comes from the first episode: the audience sees Simpson crouched and shaking in a corner, threatening to commit suicide in the room of the now-famous Kim Kardashian. Robert Kardashian (Schwimmer) talks him down from the metaphorical ledge, but the scene is a harrowing glance at the mental state of O.J. Simpson during the most infamous point of his life. If American Crime Story continues to capture scenes such as these—ones that allow viewers to see the hidden side of O.J. Simpson’s trial—the show will not only continue to prosper, but likely grow into a household name as well.

On a grander scale, American Crime Story is not solely about the life and trial of O.J. Simpson—season two is slated to be centered on the aftermath of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. Coming from the creators of American Horror Story, American Crime Story has adopted the anthology format as well. This suggests that the writers of the show seek to expand the modern understanding of the stories television tells. This model is not one seen widely across today’s TV industry, and if executed well, it hopefully will serve as a wonderful vessel to focus on a wide assortment of true crime stories that both excite the viewer as well as educate them on some of America’s darker pasts.

Featured Image By FX