When I went to the US for the first time, I spent a few days at a cousin’s place before graduate school swallowed my life up whole. I would acquaint myself with America, I decided. As the adults left for work, and the child was on its way to daycare, I thought of how I should proceed. There are only so many times you can walk around the suburban cluster of houses without looking creepy – this is especially difficult to achieve if you are the only living thing for as far as your eye can see. So I disappeared into the folds of the very comfortable recliner with a cup of hot tea, and America introduced itself to me through its television programming. Soon I was friends with Ina Garten, Giada, and Rachael Ray. I spent many minutes marveling at the way Paula Deen spoke, and the quantity of butter she managed to use. I thought The Pioneer Woman had a beautiful home. I didn’t try a single recipe. I watched someone take down restaurants, and I watched someone else help a young couple buy the perfect property. I hung out with Ellen in her studio.
Eventually, I discovered what was to be my undoing – a show titled Khloe and Lamar. It was unbelievable that such a show could exist. Cameras followed this couple everywhere. He was a star basketball player, and she, well, I wasn’t sure what it was that made her famous. I watched them fight and make up according to a script, I watched as she felt pressured into having to sex up their life, only to be reminded by her husband that she didn’t have to go to such great lengths for him. <Maybe she had to for the audience?> Not long after, I started keeping up with the Kardashians, but it was harder than I anticipated. At first, I couldn’t catch who Bruce Jenner was and I wanted to know if he really was an Olympian. I also thought there wasn’t something quite right about this Scott entity. It doesn’t take much longer, a couple of clicks at most on Wikipedia ,to arrive at the ‘trial of the century’ from here – considering Robert Kardashian (father to the famous Kardashian sisters and one semi-famous brother) was OJ’s friend and attorney.
The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story narrates for us what happened after OJ did (or didn’t) do it. It takes us to the nineties, back when people could still smoke at their desks, and allows us to observe what could have happened. It details for us what people were going through, specifically the black community, reeling from police brutality and everyday discrimination. It helps us understand why this case was so divisive, and why the public might have wanted him to get away with it. He was a successful black man, loved by the country for his sporting accomplishments, and for him to be reduced to a statistic would have been painful – it would mean snatching the narrative right back from his community, once again reinforcing stereotypes that the black male is an angry person, prone to fits of violence. This is relevant even now, when police brutality makes its presence felt on the news too often to be ignored. We also get to see the media frenzy that enveloped this trial, which we are used to now, but which might have been unprecedented over twenty years ago. The trial by media, and how this affects popular perception is brought out too. The show doesn’t explicitly take sides, but it does suggest that OJ was guilty of murdering Nicole Brown, his ex-wife, and a certain Ron Goldman.
The cast is uniformly excellent. But I am partial to Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran, lead attorney and celebrity litigator for OJ. He brings to the character a kind of dignity, and a frustration with the system that threatens to boil over any minute. I also loved Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark, the prosecutor, who has to contend with sexism every step of the way. Her skills as a lawyer are never under the microscope, it is always her hair, her marital troubles, her sense of style (or lack thereof). She is asked to soften her appearance and her manner of speech in the courtroom so she doesn’t come across as a bitch. This is still the case of course, with people thinking they have the right to ask women to smile and not be so grumpy, or thinking they can rate her talent based on her appearance, or even that her appearance supersedes her attempts to do a good job. It is a bit funny to see David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian, however. He will always be Ross, even if he colours his hair grey.
Though we know what happened, the show still makes for fascinating viewing. While ‘binge-watching’ may not be the most appropriate qualifier to describe such a morbid subject, The People v. OJ Simpson is binge-worthy in every sense of the word. You can’t take your eyes off, and you can’t stop thinking about it, mostly because it is so strange that no one could have made it all up even if they spent sleepless nights trying to do so.
I would like to tell you that Khloe and Lamar was the only ridiculous show I watched. I hate to disappoint you, but I also watched at least two seasons of The Bachelor. I think I’m doing okay, thanks for asking.