Taking the viewer through the complex and oftentimes corrupt world of the Los Angeles justice system, The Trial of OJ Simpson provides yet another look at what has been seen by many as the most obvious trial a jury ever got wrong.
At least this look into the case is more engaging through its more dramatised and fictionalised style. It sticks to the facts -OJ failing his lie detector, for instance, but every conversation can only be assumed to be a combination of he said, she said, pure assumption and whatever they managed to record on camera or otherwise. It’s easy to forget that when you’re watching, but reflecting back on it can only deliver more unanswerable questions.
One thing which they did do well was capturing the feel of what it was like then. Racial tensions were just as high then as they are now, made more troubling by the case itself. They make it very clear how big of an impact this made on both sides. The prosecutors try to mitigate the effect of race as an influence, even denying the obvious possibility that the officer who found the evidence has admitted to being racist in the past, whilst the defence bases a great deal of their defence on the possibility that OJ was framed by a racist police officer.
That leads into the second thing they got right: they can make you sympathise, to at least some extent, with OJ- even to the point where his innocence is not the impossibility you might have thought going into the programme. Cuba Gooding Junior gives a stellar performance as a fallen American hero on the edge of a precipice. This especially applies to the first two episodes. You can be left in no doubt that Gooding’s character, at that point, could legitimately be an innocent man having a breakdown as his life falls around him. It’s worth watching if only to see that performance.
The biggest issue with the programmed lies in what this show requires. There were a great many people involved with the case- with four of the main characters taking up only some of OJ’s legal team. Each gives a fantastic performance (although I’ll never be able to look at John Travolta the same way again), but some people involved within the show appear almost unnecessary. Was it really necessary to give so much time to the Kardashian family? I know that Robert Kardashian and his family were great friends with OJ and given that he was also a big part of the legal team he should be included, but some of the scenes appear almost pointless. One big scene which comes to mind is Robert taking his young family to a busy restaurant, only to find that he is not well known enough to be immediately given a seat. One of his daughters exclaims how happy she is at having this attention, but Robert tells her that the Kardashians believe in being “down to earth.” Whilst I appreciate the irony of a man who sought to stay away from the limelight helping to create a family whose entire career is based upon being attention seekers on a frankly unbelievably boring reality TV show.
What got me most about that particular scene was that, instead of thinking about the case, I instead realised the horrifying implications of that one, meaningless scene. It basically suggested that Robert unintentionally caused his own daughter’s insatiable hunger for fame! I rather hope that’s not the case, I don’t think I could live with the guilt.
Regardless, the solid acting from all involved, the political intrigue and the surprising lack of bias from the show so far leads me to recommend this programme wholeheartedly. It depicts a world in which no side are entirely the ‘good guys’, even when intentions are seemingly pure. It allows for human flaws to shine through where they might be otherwise discarded within a more straight-laced and fact-based documentary. If you want a look at the case that stands out you can still catch the beginning of the programme on iPlayer.