FX

American Crime Story

'News, Entertainment, And Sports'

American Crime Story's most provocative moments, from effective to [eye-roll].

One of the myriad challenges facing a project like The People v. OJ Simpson -- casting it correctly; not casting so correctly that the acting corps dwarfs the story; selecting source material that inspires the adaptation instead of handcuffing it -- is the difficulty of telling such an exhaustively, exhaustingly known story, but without straining to innovate. A return to the extended and sordid tragedy of the Simpson trial needs to offer a new take, or what's the point, but at the same time, it's a fine line between a thoughtful fresh take and a clickbait hot-take take.

...I've just typed the word "take" so many times that it looks incorrect now. Anyway: The People v. OJ Simpson has come under some fire for not respecting the victims, a group that includes the families, and I agree that both creator and consumer of crime shows should try to keep in mind that a person or people died to bring whatever story we're following into existence. I don't agree that ACS is telling its story in an exploitive way, though. Series scribes Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, inspired by Jeffrey Toobin's page-turner The Run Of His Life, and the cast find something new to say in the little moments, commentary via music cues, offhand cop remarks, and local details that give the story some texture and dimension.

The quotation that gave me my title isn't actually a particularly deft example. ACS has points it wants to make about why The People v. OJ Simpson -- the actual case, not the series -- metastasized in the popular consciousness, and at times, its determination to get them across is not the most elegant. At other times, it's done with humor so dark as to extinguish all light. It may not always work, but it's consistently watchable even when (and/or because) it's underlining the salient issues with a ham-pink highlighter.

The second episode's most thought- and groan-provoking moments, from best to worst:

  1. Shapiro's KDZ Doze-FM tune styles in the car
    What a spot-on character beat, especially paired with Travolta's expression as he's bobbing his head sort of vaguely along with the music. Love it.
  2. 2016-02-09-acs-gooding
  3. Cuba Gooding Jr.'s performance
    It is evidently not for everyone, and without saying that anyone is "watching it wrong," what annoys me about watching Gooding's OJ is its very OJ-ness -- the frantic flailing of a decompensating sociopath to cover the gully where a soul would go, and to feign sincere connection in order to rebuild regard. His only feeling is for himself, but there is a great sadness that Gooding manages to put forward with his successful portrayal of this charismatic shell at the end of "The Run Of His Life," not sadness for Simpson, Lord knows, but that this grown-up person's infantile inability to be denied anything laid waste to three families and dozens of careers.

    Gooding has a couple of bum-note acting choices here, and is smelling a few farts instead of listening to the lines. Again, not saying anyone's wrong to find the performance off-putting; just wondering if that's because it is working.

  4. "Sabotage"
    The Beasties' Ill Communication dropped the winter of my senior year in college, and at college, it was everywhere. Then I moved back home to my top-40 hometown and it felt like I never heard the tracks anymore, and that's where I was when all this shit went down: living with my parents, driving around with my brother, trying to get a job and get out.

    The idea behind using "Sabotage" as a music cue is probably multi-fold: the title of the track; the lyrics ("I can't stand it, I know you planned it"); the track's genre, "rapcore," which could be interpreted as a co-opting of African-American culture; the video's ubiquity on MTV in 1994; the video's parody of '70s crime dramas, with all the car chases those would have entailed.

    I mean, or someone just liked the song, which is legit, but it pushes a bunch of symbolic buttons.

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  6. American Crime-Story Story
    From the argument in the network control room over whether to cut away from the NBA finals (for a subtly brilliant account of how that unfolded, check out 30 For 30's "June 17, 1994") to one of the unis at the scene muttering, "No hotheads, we're on TV," to the assembly of a video package that assumes Simpson's suicide, "The Run Of His Life" made me long for an entire series from the perspective of the media. A single network or outlet, a different media outlet each episode...how did these decisions get made? What did those conversations sound like? I imagine a mordant, gossipy layered dip of equal parts All The President's Men, Spotlight, and Nightcrawler, and I had the same nosy thought about Making A Murderer -- what was it like to cover that story, and then as a result to become it?
  7. Two Broncos, no waiting
    OJ's Bronco had been impounded to examine the blood evidence; the one he and AC Cowlings made their famous flight in was an identical vehicle that belonged to Cowlings, who wanted to drive the exact same car as his...mentor? idol? boss-friend-guy? That ACS slows down to make sure we understand the logistics on this point has two purposes, and the first is to explain why OJ got his car back already, to wit: he didn't. The second is to underline the uniquely bizarro power imbalance of OJ Simpson's personal relationships (Toobin's book is withering about, among others, Robert Kardashian's "desperate" involvement with Simpson and his case). Simpson didn't have friends, exactly. He had "people," a "camp."
  8. "The backup on Sepulveda must be unbelievable"
    It's customary to talk about the Simpson case as a quintessentially "L.A." chapter in American history. I don't dispute this, but I would note that wondering how 96-point headlines will affect one's commute is not unique to Angelenos. That line was embarrassingly relatable to this commentator.
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  10. "I'm not shooting at OJ Simpson unless somebody authorizes it"
    The line clunked for me when I first heard it; it was trying too hard for a black chuckle. But the further I get into Toobin's book, the more it grew on me. The role of the media, image, and responsibility in the Simpson story really can't be overstated.
  11. "He's getting chased by the cops; he's black now"
    Darden's neighbor's delivery actually makes the line less on-the-nose than it reads, but it's...still parked dead center of the face, there. That said, thanks to Ferguson and Baltimore and Eric Garner and and and, I was thinking it, or something like it, before someone said it out loud.
  12. Hard-charging bitches: they smoke!
    One, this is not a prop cueing Sarah Paulson needs to lean on. Paulson is perfectly capable of rendering Clark's (self-)righteousness without the extra layer of socially obtuse smoking in nearly every scene. What Paulson isn't so great at, which is weird given how frequently her American Genre Story characters are called upon to do it, is smoking convincingly. Enough.
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