The Trial of the Century

FX’s American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson recounts the trial that shook the nation–and left two innocent families without justice for their victims.

by Tara Higgins

After 21 years, “the trial of the century” remains fresh in people’s minds. The murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman on June 12, 1994 will never be forgotten, nor will be the man at the center of over two decades of controversy. But who is really to blame?

On Feb. 2, America tuned in to the premiere of FX’s original miniseries American Crime Story, based on Jeffrey Toobin’s book The Run of His Life: The People vs. OJ Simpson. The show presents the murder trial that promised–but failed–to bring Nicole and Ron’s killer to justice. It depicts everything from behind-the-scenes preparation for the trial to glimpses into the lives of those most intimately involved to jury selection and, of course, all the courtroom tension and drama itself–and all brought to light with the help of several skilled actors and a few remarkable lookalikes.

Sarah Paulson portrays lead prosecutor and Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Marcia Clark, with all her fiery presence and hairstyles that varied by day. Her performance is a revelation into the mind behind the case, but it also showcases her personal struggles throughout the trial, and her own battles following her second divorce. However, while Clark was successful in winning custody of her two children, she was certainly unsuccessful in her relentless pursuit for the truth.

But where Clark could be credited for bringing more-than-just-controversial LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman (Steven Pasquale) to the stand, co-prosecutor Christopher Darden, played by Sterling K. Brown, could be just as much to blame for infamously requesting that Simpson try on the bloody gloves recovered from his home in Rockingham. Aside from the seriousness of the trial, the series also taps into the question of romance between the two prosecutors, complete with scenes featuring late-night sessions in the office.

But back to the business at hand, ACS is far more than just a recap or play-by-play of the day-to-day events as they unfolded under the watchful eye of presiding judge Lance A. Ito (as interpreted by actor Kenneth Choi, who could also serve as Ito’s 21st century double). And speaking of doubles, Joseph Siravo, who plays Ron’s father Fred Goldman, is perhaps most deserving of the award for the series’ best doppelganger, although off-screen he actually looks nothing like him.

And of course, the trial would have been nothing without its “dream team defense,” originally as led by Robert Shapiro (John Travolta), who was ousted by the eventual lead defense attorney Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) and also featuring  F. Lee Bailey (Nathan Lane), Alan Dershowitz (Evan Handler), Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer), Shawn Holley (Angel Parker), and Carl E. Douglas (Dale Godboldo). They may have outnumbered the prosecution, but they were hardly drowning under concrete evidence. Conflicts between Cochran and Shapiro (who as we can see was more than reluctant to hire him) reach boiling point at several times throughout the series. Kardashian’s inner struggle with his friend Simpson’s innocence-turned-guilt shines through Schwimmer’s brilliant portrayal. But of course, if anyone “stole the show” (if such a cliche could even be used appropriately in this cinematic metaphor), it would have to be OJ Simpson himself.

Played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. (one can only wonder how long it took to find an actor to play him), Simpson’s true nature penetrates through the football star. He earned plenty of screen time too, what with the infamous slow Bronco chase (a ridiculous chase really, as if he would really have committed suicide in the back of a car on live national TV; and not only that, but who has ever heard of a slow chase?) and Oscar-worthy performance right in front of the jury when he splendidly tricked 12 seemingly intelligent people into believing that the glove didn’t fit (funny how they also viewed pictures of Simpson wearing them).

On Tuesday night the final episode of the 10-part series aired, featuring closing arguments, the verdict, and the immediate aftermath. After Simpson declined to testify, Clark delivered her final statements, summing up 134 days of the televised trial. She concluded by asking jurors to consider why, when informed of his ex-wife Nicole’s death, Simpson never inquired as to how she died. Darden delivered his own statements, imploring the jurors to hold responsible the only man who deserved to suffer for his crimes.

Cochran ended the defense’s argument with a bang, stating simply that the LAPD was not to be trusted and that more than enough reasonable doubt had been presented. But who knows if they acquitted because it didn’t fit?

After just four hours of deliberations, the jurors returned with their final verdict. Despite an initial 10-2 vote for acquittal, they seemed to have reached a surprisingly speedy consensus. The manila envelope was torn and the papers removed, and OJ Simpson stood facing the jury who would decide his fate.

“We the jury in the above entitled action find the defendant Orenthal James Simpson…not guilty of…” as the rest of the sentence fades and Simpson’s smirk crosses his face not once, but twice. He’s done it. He got off, just like that.

The people are enraged, the country in shock. Even Judge Ito looks as if he doesn’t know exactly what is going on in his courtroom. But as always with not guilty verdicts, Simpson is free to go.

After a few brief scenes featuring Clark and Darden’s press conference and their departure from the office one last time, the series closes on Simpson’s release and return to Rockingham. Only one thing is certain as the camera weaves through his welcome-home party: Robert Kardashian won’t be there to support him. Perhaps Simpson can find solace in the life-size replica towering over his backyard, as he is seen gazing up at it.

10 episodes are hardly enough to bottle the trial of the century for 2016’s television viewers. Still, The People vs. OJ Simpson reminds us all that the case lives on. Before leaving watchers, two final photos featuring Ron and Nicole flash across the TV screen, ensuring that amidst all the drama and the killer that caused it, their memories will never be forgotten.

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