Re-Framing History

Perhaps the best new show of the year is "American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson." It's not that it's new or mysterious — the series is based on a real trial from 20 years ago. It's that it re-frames what you might have thought you'd known from watching the trial on TV.

I was in middle school when the OJ trial happened. But I remember watching pieces of it, and the perceptions that were presented through the media about the key players involved — particularly the prosecution.

This series — which is based on a book that asserts that OJ was guilty and beat the system — gives you a different impression. It's through seven of 10 episodes — with the eighth airing tomorrow — and it's done a great job of providing depth of character to these familiar people — Marcia Clark, Christopher Darden and members of the Dream Team. And it's seemingly setting a new blueprint for this type of anthology series.

Here's three things I've enjoyed so far:

1. The Dream Team was kind of dysfunctional. I remember seeing this group of high-priced, big name attorneys and how unstoppable it seemed. But, as the show asserts, behind the scenes it was often a different story. The performances — from Courtney B. Vance, John Travolta and David Schwimmer in particular — have really helped sell the narrative.

2. The prosecutors got dealt some bad hands. I was young when the trial happened, but my perception was always that Clark and Darden botched the case. But this series gives a real appreciation for their work on the trial, and the pressures they faced away from the courthouse. Sarah Paulson — who plays Clark — in particular has done a good job of humanizing the woman behind the name. Episode six was a real chance for her to shine, and it really worked for the series.

3. This was a media circus. When you hear the description of the evidence and the time line, it's easy to see why cops and prosecutors were convinced he did it. It's also easy to forget that this trial was must see TV, and that had to have an impact on the way jurors saw things and voted. It's been 20 years, but this show has opened up debates all over again, and with good reason.

There are three episodes left this season (the show airs at 10 p.m. on Tuesdays on F/X). We may know what happened in history, but I can't wait to see how the story behind the story continues to play out.


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