American Crime Story is the ‘crime of the century.’ Even if you’re not old enough to remember, the sensational trial of O.J. Simpson is a pop culture reference. The FX Network takes on the true crime genre with this controversial story. FX cornered the market with their anthology series American Horror Story. The idea for the FX Network and 20th Century Fox Television is to make a show for the audience they’ve already cultivated. The jump from horror to true crime doesn’t feel too far. The difference with American Crime Story is the complex themes surrounding the actual crime.
Preceding the events of the O.J. Simpson trial the country fell onto another backlash of racial tensions. In 1991 riots erupted surrounding Rodney King’s beatings from the LAPD. With O.J. Simpson as a suspect, and his subsequent arrest fuelled the same police brutality rhetoric. This time the criminal justice system is in the spotlight. The public is caught between rushing to defend Simpson from unjust persecution as a black man, and fighting against his special treatment as a celebrity.
If viewers don’t know the weight of the name O.J. Simpson the episode will tell them. About eight minutes into the episode three detectives hop the fence of Simpson’s property when nobody comes to the gate. The first thing they see while walking across the lawn is Simpson’s statue of himself. The statue embodies Simpson in his famed football uniform, but stands taller and stronger than the actual man. It’s terrifying. Most of the men involved in the investigation go easy on Simpson. “I just can’t picture O.J. Simpson doing it. He’s the nicest guy,” says one prosecutor. The men who interrogate him practically give Simpson a free pass.
The one person who doesn’t get fazed by The Juice is Marcia Clark. Clark pushes to get Simpson convicted for murder, as the investigation won’t move forward without her tenacity. Clark sees the previous 911 calls and the spousal abuse case in 1989. Clark sees the death of Nichole Brown, and not the football star. O.J. Simpson’s charisma is entirely lost of Marcia Clark.
The problem with dramatization of factual events is that viewers need to stop and ask, ‘is that how it really happened?’ The creative liberties of television means the writers can add in spectacular details to enhance the story. While criminalists are working the scene at Nichole Brown’s house, her daughter calls and leaves a voicemail. Everyone in the room can hear as the little girl cries and begs her mother to call her back. Why are she and her brother at the police station? Why can’t they go home? Everyone in the room looks up as the message plays, but no one moves. It’s a great moment, and the episode is filled with them. This isn’t factual true crime, this isn’t a reenactment, this is a crime thriller.