It’s been just about twenty years since O.J. Simpson was acquitted of the Los Angeles murders of Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Lyle Goldman. While millions watched the live trial, and it was covered in the media ad nauseam, Ryan Murphy decided it was high time for a look back through the lens of an American Horror Story companion series. The first season of his ten-episode American Crime Story will feature Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J., Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark, David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian Sr., Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran and hair-meister, John Travolta as Robert Shapiro. I don’t think many of us felt a compelling need to revisit this particular event in our national history, which seems to serve as the moment much of America realized just how fucked up our justice system is. As with the Serial podcast, examining a true crime case that involves people who are still grieving (for victims, the accused, or both) can be a minefield, perhaps calling into question our insatiable appetite for such “entertainment.” Listening to the story of Hae Min Lee’s murder, we could at least rationalize that we were trying to help solve a crime or free an unfairly convicted suspect, but new details about American Crime Story may prove a bridge too far.
Speaking with Vulture, American Crime Story writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk will executive produce; Murphy will also write and direct the pilot) revealed the series won’t simply be a stylized retelling; in typical Murphy fashion, there’s a twist.
“It’s going to be a hoot. The strange thing about the trial is that they [the real-life characters] all shoved themselves onto television and so a lot of lawyers ended up becoming ‘personalities,’ which is very unusual. So everybody in America knows this entire cast of lawyers and witnesses and hangers-on.” (Alexander)
“The show is about how it affected us all…One of the running gags in our script is that [because] they knocked out all of the daytime television for the trial, we have a very minor character who’s into the soap operas and is very, very angry they pulled all of her shows. But by the tenth episode, she’s watching the O.J. trial as if it’s a soap opera.” (Karaszewski)
Of course, anyone who saw that trial, or even just read news bites and excerpts, knows there were unintentionally humorous aspects — you can’t make up caricatures like Kato Kaelin — and a guy like Ryan Murphy isn’t going to let the opportunity to make fun of Lance Ito, Shapiro, Cochran, etc. go by. But, I’m just not sure how I feel about turning this story into a dark comedy; as good as Murphy is with a murderous clown like Twisty, the Simpson trial isn’t quite the same. The series will focus on the legal process, and “how a combination of prosecution confidence, defense wiliness, and the LAPD’s history with the city’s African-American community gave a jury…reasonable doubt.” Still, two kids lost their mother, another family’s son/brother was murdered, and those people are still grieving over their losses.
We can veer off into the same old arguments about how liberal yahoos like me are ruining comedy by trying to limit what is and isn’t acceptable to joke about — I don’t intend or want to be that person. I watch Louie, who plays with every taboo subject he can get his mouth on, and while I might cringe (a lot), I respect his right to poke fun at whatever he wants. So why is this different? I’m not entirely certain, but I can’t help thinking those relatives have already been through the circus once; maybe they shouldn’t have to deal with it again? What say you — will you watch American Crime Story: The People vs. O. J. Simpson?