In the opening of the first episode of The People v. O.J. Simpson, the filmmakers propose to us that the ashes of tragedy, here, are the Rodney King beating, the trial, verdict and subsequent riots, which happened just two years prior to the double homicide that touches off this trial of the century.
That this piece of LA's recent history was an antecedent to the frenzied clusterfuck of the O.J. trial is not only possible but probable and the suggestion of it is as strong as it is confident. Within 'From the Ashes of Tragedy' are the seeds of a new kind of storytelling. It's not fiction, it's not a documentary. It's a superbly-thoughtful submitted hypothesis by the creative team: these are the facts, yet we're going to make connections along the way for you. Additionally, there are greatly talented actors but they're playing real people, there's a distinct point of view, many of you have lived this before and it's no less a tragedy in this form. But you're going to be entertained like crazy. Now -- what does all of this say about humanity? Especially that last part. To me, this will be the show's greatest triumph, to make us question why are we revisiting this and how the hell is true crime a genre of entertainment?
So here we are. A season-long investigation into the O.J. Simpson phenomenon from all different angles, some we are familiar with, as a public, and others, not so much. Jeffrey Toobin, who wrote the book of the same name from which the show has adapted itself, had the good sense to be someone who watched the circus watching the circus. He serves as consultant on the show, as well and we are in very good hands, seeing this from his comprehensive perspective. We are also in good hands with the writers, Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, who, among other things, are extremely adept at condensing the tone of each character into one or two key lines of dialogue in each scene. This quality of their writing elevates the pacing of this hour of TV to the level of art. Add to that, that the episode is directed within an inch of its life by hyper-stylized, psycho-sexy-precise, Ryan Murphy, and we are riveted. I was caught off guard how very fucking compelling this show is. For multiple reasons, too, some very fresh and sophisticated. This anthology (Season 2 will cover Katrina) is asking us, are we ready to examine these grievous imprints in our recent history as a microcosm of ourselves and the world we are creating? (Because it's not an attractive reflection, and it's painfully sad, and, at times, an emblem of our worst collective selves.) But there's something very beautiful here -- the series' intention is posed as a question yet it's already clear American Crime Story has faith in us that we are.
The actors cast to tell this story are impeccable in every way imaginable. It appears they serve the intentions of the creators in even more nuanced ways than anyone could have even hoped. Casting Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark is so inspired, I almost can't process it fully. John Travolta playing Robert Shapiro as hauntingly waxen -- equally super. And although their screen time was limited to Nicole's funeral, the trifecta of Jordana Brewster as Nicole's sister, Denise Brown, Selma Blair as Kris Jenner and Connie Britton as Faye Resnick almost ended me. The winks that edge right up against stunt casting like David Schwimmer as Rob Kardashian and even Cuba "Show me the money" Gooding Jr. as O.J. offer their own glee, even pleasure, to behold as an audience member. Aw, shite, there's that feeling again. The one that comes from recognizing the enjoyment we have, seeing these actors we know and love playing sometimes-tormented, often-grieving real people who lived this as their life. But wait, the people involved in all of the facets of the trial were characters anyway, right?
|Courtney B. Vance's Johnnie Cochran -- good lord -- A+++|
The last shots of 'From the Ashes of Tragedy' show the moments that led up to O.J. running from the arresting officers and getting in his Bronco, with his high school friend and teammate, Al Cowlings (Malcolm-Jamal Warner), heading towards LA on the highway. Nina Simone's 'I Shall Be Released' plays. We know where this is going and are still watching. Maybe we'll be released, too.
* Chris Bauer.
* A lot of really good visual touches throughout...
* The cop sighing visibly with relief when he sees both kids sleeping. Then pausing to look at the pictures on the wall -- focusing on the one with O.J. and his kids.
* The lie detector test looks like the aforementioned 'chains' mentioned in the radio interview with Dennis Schatzman.
* A lot of the police work early on in the episode is shot first person which gives it a leery, creepy, voyeur vibe ala Nightcrawler (the 2014 Dan Gilroy movie).
* I'm fascinated with how much of this story, its details, those involved, is locked up in our collective unconscious. Even in the first episode, I re-remembered what I didn't even know I had a memory of. I hope the show explores the implications of what that may mean for the traumas we go through as a society -- how things are held in our memory for better or worse.
Riske: "There's no media here."
Vannatter: "This is a double-homicide in Brentwood. They'll show."
Marcia Clark: "Nobody gets killed in Brentwood."
Rob Kardashian: "I'm sure I'm on the list."
Cop: "There's no list."
Cop: "We found a trail of blood."
D.A.: "It's the LAPD and a famous guy."
Gil: "'Cuz they're not used to grilling a star."
Johnnie Cochran: "I like to win. This case is a loser."
Reporter: "Who the hell brings their lawyer to a funeral?"
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