|'This is a courtroom drama, and yet the series forces us to sit through almost two hours of soapy sensationalism before we can get to that'.|
The overwhelming acclaim that American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson has received from critics and audiences throughout its ten-episode run surely must be fuelled only by the closing four fifths of the series. The opening two episodes are overwhelmingly terrible, to the point where I almost gave up on the series there and then. Aside from the poor writing and hammy acting - particularly from Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J. Simpson - the events depicted in these episodes, whilst notable within the overall story, feel increasingly superfluous to what the series is actually about. This is a courtroom drama, and yet the series forces us to sit through almost two hours of soapy sensationalism before we can get to that.
Thankfully, the series picks up from episode three as the focus shifts onto those both prosecuting and defending. Simpson largely becomes a supporting character from this point to the benefit of the series, as prosecutor Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) and lead defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) rightfully take centre stage. Paulson and Vance are key players in of all of the best episodes, with the moments where the two actors share the screen regularly providing the series' undeniable moments of excellence. The supporting cast is less consistent however, ranging from the reliably strong Bruce Greenwood and the pleasingly restrained Nathan Lane to the cringeworthy-to-the-point-of-distraction John Travolta, looking like a melted Ken doll and acting as if he's got an icicle permanently lodged somewhere within his nether regions.
When those behind the scenes allow The People v. O.J. Simpson to be the straightforward but well-executed courtroom drama it always should have been, the series proves both gripping and thought-provoking. But other issues are allowed to encroach upon this too often, resulting in a number of episodes becoming mired in less successful distractions. The teased relationship between Clark and her co-prosecutor Chris Darden (Sterling K. Brown), although apparently based at least in part on truth, is an unnecessary distraction and ultimately adds nothing to the series. The fact that Simpson's friend and lawyer Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer, still struggling to break free of Ross Geller over a decade after Friends) is the father of Kim et al. also proves too much for the series to pass by, resulting in a few ill-conceived and ill-fitting moments which attempt to ironically foreshadow the family's current celebrity status.
Whilst there's plenty to like in The People v. O.J. Simpson, with a handful of genuinely excellent episodes on offer, there's also too much the series as a whole gets wrong to consider it anything more than a partial success. Removing episodes one and two would go some way to remedying this, but even then the remaining eight parts fail to provide enough consistency to allow the superior elements to truly outshine those that are less polished.