Last night, FX debuted new series "American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson" and immediately made one thing clear: this show can be watched by two very different audiences. The first is anyone old enough to remember the finer details of the trial and all the twists and turns it included. Though viewers of a certain age may recall it well, "American Crime Story" will still surprise you with key details that may have been forgotten as you binged on "Serial" and "Making a Murderer." The second target audience is anyone young enough to not have really understood the magnitude of the situation when it was going on. I and other millenials are getting an in-depth look at the most famous trial of the (previous) century that essentially spawned the reality TV boom and celebrity media culture as we know it today.
The question is: does it work? One episode in and I'd say so far, so good (aside from a shoehorned cameo of all your least favorite Kardashians as children).
The undertone of how celebrities were viewed in the pre-Twitter and TMZ era is apparent from the get go; "I just can't picture O.J. Simpson doing it," one of the prosecutors says early on. With the prologue backdrop of the Rodney King riots and the racially charged tensions between the LAPD and L.A.'s African American population, it's not hard to draw a parallel to today's headlines and squirm uncomfortably as "The People v. O.J. Simpson" still hits close to home. I like that the show is establishing overarching themes such as this early on.
What's more impressive is how "From the Ashes of Tragedy" so deftly hits on all the unenviable tasks of a season premiere without feeling like a bullet list: introducing characters and their motivations, providing necessary background information, planting seeds for future subplots, etc. In just one short hour, we already have a sense for some of the main players.
Courtney B. Vance's Johnnie Cochran is an activist of sorts harboring some serious mistrust for the authorities ("Pick a side," he screams at Sterling K. Brown's Christopher Darden after a difference of opinion on a case). Sarah Paulson's Marcia Clarke is an ambitious prosecutor who is seeking justice for Nicole Brown Simpson. David Schwimmer's Robert Kardashian is just trying to be a good friend. We still haven't met a handful of important figures in the trial, but we're off to a good start from a character standpoint.
Vance and Paulson (who is executive producer Ryan Murphy's muse on "American Horror Story") shine the brightest in the show's opening hour while John Travolta's Robert Shapiro, who seems to be pleased with his connection to a high-profile case, is just a bit too cartoonish for my taste. Cuba Gooding Jr. is fine as O.J., and the show seems to be setting him up as more of a catalyst (obviously) as opposed to the central focus, which is smart. On top of the acting, the tone and pacing of last night's premiere proved instantly addicting as well.
Overall, the best thing I can say about "American Crime Story" is that despite knowing exactly how it all will end, I'm still excited to see exactly how it all plays out. My guess is that older viewers who still remember the minutia of the case will agree.