FX's true-crime anthology television series American Crime Story has set a high standard for its duration because its first season, The People v. O.J. Simpson, was critically acclaimed and won nine Emmy Awards including three for acting, one for writing, and for Outstanding Limited Series. Based on Jeffrey Toobin's book, The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson (1997), the TV series takes viewers behind the scenes during one of the most notable trials of the twentieth century, though what is factual and what has dramatized is not made clear.
The series opens with news footage of the L.A. Riots of 1992, which occurred after the acquittal of the four police officers who were caught beating Rodney King on videotape. The story jumps two years forward to the night O.J. (Cuba Gooding Jr.) headed to the airport, which is the same night his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered.
For those that lived through it, portions of the story about O.J.'s arrest and trial are known as they played out on broadcast television newscasts and cable opinion programs, but the miniseries expands on the story people think they know. The writers do this by digging deeper to reveal how members of the prosecution and defense teams acted and reacted as events unfolded. For example, viewers get to watch the power struggle between defense attorneys, and also how the prosecution built their case against O.J.
A highlight of the 10-episode season is when it explores the unfair treatment by the media and society of Marcia Clarke (Sarah Paulson), who is unmercifully attacked for her looks. An additional fascinating aspect about her story is learning about her struggles as a single mom going through a divorce while handling such a high-profile case.
Another intriguing storyline involves Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown), a young African American lawyer in the District Attorney's office who has to battle on a number of fronts because of his race. Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) chastises him for not doing enough for their people. He is rushed into the spotlight before he is ready because the prosecution wants a counterpart to Cochran, but this causes many problems. His co-workers don't trust his judgment in regards to Officer Mark Fuhrman, and he makes numerous mistakes during the trial, most notably having O.J. try on the gloves because he desperately wants a win.
The acting and story get melodramatic at times, coming across more soap opera than docudrama. And there's an unnecessary scene where Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer) gives his young kids a lesson about the fleeting nature of fame, which is a lame wink to the audience since the children are an easy target. But considering the ending is known, the producers do a fine job keeping the plot engaging.
The video is presented in 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfers presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Shot on Arri Alexa cameras, the image is sharp, delivering fine details throughout. Colors appear in pleasing hues and blacks are sufficiently inky. Archival footage is understandably looks its age. The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The procedural/courtroom drama is understandably dialogue heavy and that element is consistently clear over the course of the series. Music makes the most use of the surround system. The effects are adequate.
Disc 3 contains the extras. “Past Imperfect: The Trail of the Century” (HD, 29 min) features members of the cast and creative team talking about the case and participants. “Facts of the Case: An Interactive Timeline” offers information about the case in four parts: Pre-trial, Prosecution, Defense, and Rebuttal &Verdict.
While not as thorough nor as compelling as the documentary O.J.: Made in America, which should be watched afterwards and not before, The People v. O.J. Simpson is an impressive miniseries that sheds light on a significant event in American history and is one of the best programs to air during the 2015/2016 television season. While the extras could have offered more details about the case, the Blu-ray delivers a satisfying HD experience.