|John Travolta, David Schwimmer and Cuba Gooding, Jr. in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.|
I still remember the day that the jury in the O.J. Simpson murder trial reached a verdict. I was eleven at the time, and my parents had judiciously shielded me from many of the more gruesome and scandalous elements of the story, but I still knew that it was a big deal, if for no other reason than that a famous football player was on trial. Besides, everyone else seemed fascinated by it; when the verdict came through, I was at recess, and one of the teachers had brought a radio outside so that he could listen to the proceedings. As soon as he relayed the news to me and my fellow fifth-graders, who were huddling close to hear, we took off in a swarm, shouting out the verdict to everyone else on the playground. None of us knew what that decision really meant, but it certainly felt like a momentous occasion.
Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the creators of FX’s new American Crime Story, presumably planned the first season of their anthology series with the hope that viewers would have a similarly personal recollection of the Simpson trial. In some ways, they’ve set up a tricky scenario for themselves: because the trial received such exhaustive coverage, there’s a lot of it that’s not only a matter of public record, but which also looms large in people’s memories of the mid-90s, restricting the amount of license that they and their cast can take with the story and characters. In that regard, it helps that they’ve chosen to adapt Jeffrey Toobin’s book, The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson. I’m unfamiliar with Toobin’s account of the trial, but I’m willing to bet that basing a series like this, which covers fairly recent events featuring many individuals who are still alive, on a pre-existing nonfiction book will help deflect any accusations of rewriting history unfairly.