American Crime Story blends true-crime drama with a Kim Kardashian origin story

The show about the O. J. Simpson trial could be Serial with star power


The murder trial of O.J. Simpson is one of those watermark historic moments that transcend generations. It’s a cultural reference – even if you were a small child when it (really) took place in 1995. And now, there’s a new way to watch it.

American Crime Story is a true crime drama on BBC2 that outlines the big moments in the story. Its first episode was broadcast in the UK last night – and it’s chiming with people for several reasons: the mythic status of the trial, the fact that O.J.’s lawyer is Kim Kardashian’s (late) father, and  the fact that it’s a riff on the true crime genre that kicked off with Serial in 2014 (more than 70 million people worldwide have listened) and dovetailed into Making A Murderer on Netflix at the end of last year.

Those who watched – or who pirated it from the US where it’s airing two weeks ahead – will be aware of the big moments in the story, if not the minor details. The car chase, O.J.’s glove, the accused’s friend Robert Kardashian: all these elements are introduced within the first hour but there’s much more going on here.

This is what we learned.

Cuba Gooding Jr, left, is so good as O.J. Simpson you'll forget about Rat Race

Cuba Gooding Jr, left, is so good as O.J. Simpson you’ll forget about Rat Race

 

It turns out re-telling this story in 2016 makes way more sense than you’d think

It’s set in a period when the reputation of the LAPD couldn’t have been worse and followed the 1992 riots in which 53 people were killed. And the opening shots of taxi driver Rodney King being beaten by police officers, puts the LA riots and race, front-and-centre in this story. Yes, O.J. Simpson was a celebrity and the media obsession with the trial largely stemmed from his fame, but American Crime Story won’t have you forgetting that this was the murder trial of a black man who was arrested by a police department often accused of racism.

Early in the episode, Cochran has a conversation with black prosecutor Christopher Darden about a case where a black woman was shot dead by police officers who “feared for their lives” despite the fact they shot the victim in the back. Cochran’s assertion that, “it’s remarkable how black folks get shot in the backside while they’re attacking [officers]” is cutting, largely because it shows how little has truly changed today. The show does a fantastic job of signposting some parallels with modern day police brutality in the States.

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Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) sits in court alongside O.J. Simpson

There’s a version of this story with Kim Kardashian as the main character and it’s probably amazing

Did O.J. Simpson really spend the last night before his arrest sleeping with his girlfriend in Kim Kardashian’s childhood bed? It makes sense to drop in a few winking references to everyone’s favourite Kardashian but the show probably over-does it, to the point where you’ll find yourself watching scenes without KK in and wondering where she is, especially as this is essentially her Ground Zero. If anyone ever made a show charting how little Kimmie went from nearly having O.J. kill himself in her bedroom to the all-conquering icon she is today, there’s no way it wouldn’t be a hit.

Knowing how this story plays out doesn’t make it any less gripping

About two-thirds of the way through the first episode, I briefly forgot O.J. went on the run and instigated one of the most memorable car chases in history. The show had me so invested in how Simpson’s lawyer Robert Shapiro (a peculiar-looking John Travolta) was stalling and delaying taking his client to the police station that I forgot O.J. had to bolt at some point.

It's hard to tell what about how John Travolta looks is more distracting

It’s hard to tell what about how John Travolta looks is more distracting

No matter how hard he tries, David Schwimmer will always be ‘sad Ross Geller’

Casting a biopic or true-crime TV show can’t be easy and, for the most part, the show does a fantastic job. Cuba Gooding Jr will make you forget you ever watched him in Rat Race or Boat Trip.

Unfortunately, there are a few missteps: when Selma Blair rocks up at the funeral playing Kris Jenner. Kris is just too well-known for Selma’s portrayal to not stick out. Similarly, John Travolta is just so odd-looking you’ll be too busy wondering what’s going on with his face to pay attention to what he’s actually saying.

We were on a break

I miss my monkey

Nothing Travolta does is as distracting as David Schwimmer’s portrayal of Robert Kardashian, though. Since the end of Friends, Schwimmer seems to have decided he can play only one role: sad Ross Geller. It’s not even as if he’s especially bad, but every thing he says or does can’t help but remind you of Ross. It doesn’t help that he spends most of the episode with the same concerned, hangdog expression Ross wore when he learned him and Rachel weren’t actually on a break.