In the beginning, the idea of producer Ryan Murphy being involved with a spin-off series of American Horror Story titled American Crime Story, with a focus on the O.J. Simpson murder trial for the first season, seemed risky to say the least. Now you put in a fantastic ensemble cast, use Jeffrey Tobin’s bestselling novel, The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson as a framework for the story and relegate Murphy to merely a director on a few episodes and you have a much better chance of making something worthwhile. As it turns out, not only was The People v. O.J. Simpson good, it is one of the best seasons of television this year and certainly worthy of its 22 Emmy nominations (as of this posting). Now the series in on Blu-ray for many to dig into.
The series is set entirely around the O.J. Simpson murder case, which began with the murder of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ron Goldman on June 12, 1994 and ends with the final verdict, decided on October 3, 1995. Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as O.J. Simpson, football player turned goofball actor turned prime suspect in a murder trial. Additionally, Courtney B. Vance plays famed defense attorney Jonnie Cochran. John Travolta plays celebrity attorney Robert Shapiro. David Schwimmer plays attorney and Simpson’s close friend Robert Kardashian. Finally, on the defense, you have Nathan Lane as attorney F. Lee Bailey.
On the prosecuting side, you have Sarah Paulson as lead prosecutor Marcia Clark. Sterling K. Brown plays fellow prosecuting attorney Christopher Darden (and is a real find here). Bruce Greenwood serves as District Attorney Gil Garcetti. And in the middle is Kenneth Choi as Lance Ito. Adding to this impressive cast you have Selma Blair, Jordana Brewster, Evan Handler, Cheryl Ladd, Rob Morrow, Robert Morse and Malcolm-Jamal Warner.
Separated into 10 episodes, this limited series uses the case as a basis for a storyline, but dives into all of the different themes that became a huge part of this murder case-turned sensation. Race, celebrity culture, media and more, are all aspects that play a role in what makes this series so compelling to watch and relevant in a way that becomes all the more apparent upon taking in what this series has to offer. Adapted and produced by screenwriting team Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, Man on the Moon), the series begins with a recap of the Rodney King incident for a reason and makes sure to punctuate each episode with an examination of various cultural highlights to put things in perspective.
The success of this series stems from the intense fascination America had (and still has) with this case and the ability of the showrunners to capture what aspects were truly important. It only helps that so many aspects of the story, while dramatized, are being either revealed or reexamined by those who may have followed the trial, but were not privy to all the details concerning what took place. Regardless of whether or not Simpson actually committed the crime (the series makes some plays to establish its stance, but does not attempt to take a conclusive route), there are so many other aspects that feel important to this story, even if it does sadly mean continuing to undermine the memories of the actual murder victims and their families. This is of course part of the point, but there is still a tragedy underneath all of this that makes the series feel especially poignant.
There are also all the fantastic performances to enjoy. Chief among them are Vance, Brown and Paulson, who play the various attorneys with an exceptional display of talent. Getting out of the world of Horror, Paulson has many shades to play as a female prosecutor under constant scrutiny from the media. Vance is fantastic in capturing the bravado of the lively Cochran. Brown has come out of nowhere to give a star making performance as Darden.
Other cast members also serve their purpose. Schwimmer is surprisingly solid as Kardashian, a man who wants to believe in his friend, but challenged by doubt. Gooding is surprisingly not the biggest factor in this series, despite the case being centered on his character. That said, he plays all the shades that ride the line between whether he is guilty or innocent. Lastly, among the main stars, you have Travolta. Now, Travolta is not exactly good, but whatever he is doing, it was very interesting to watch.
The series manages to accomplish so much a whole lot in the span of 10 (generally extended) episodes of television. With that, it should be noted how entertaining the whole thing is. While dramatic and at times intense, there is a lot of humor to be found throughout. The director has a satirical bent to it and we get a lot of wild zooms, close-ups and other filmmaking elements to really highlight the tone of this series. That doesn’t take away from this series being “based on a true story” but one should also acknowledge that the show is not attempting to tell a definitive story either. What matters is how good the show is at accomplishing what it sets out to do.
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story is a fantastic accomplishment for a variety of reasons. The series has a great story to tell as if it were new all over again. A fantastic ensemble cast (and Travolta) does their best to really bring these various characters to life. With 10 episodes, there is brevity to the series that is appreciated, but still a great amount of information and entertainment to take in. And at the core of it all, a potent story about race relations in America, which is still quite prevalent today, makes for just one of the exciting elements that really adds meaning to what this series set out to achieve.
This Blu-ray set includes all 10 episodes on 3 discs, which can be viewed in “Season Mode” to prevent interruption between episodes:
- “From the Ashes of Tragedy”
- “The Run of His Life”
- “The Dream Time”
- “100% Not Guilty”
- “The Race Card”
- “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”
- “Conspiracy Theories”
- “A Jury in Jail”
- “Manna From Heaven”
- “The Verdict”
Encoding: AVC MPEG-4
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Clarity/Detail: The People v. O.J. Simpson is a sharp and nicely defined series to watch on Blu-ray. There is a lot of great detail to take in, given the varying locales and sets featured in this season. Aspects such as costume design also play a huge role, even if it all feels pretty low-key. All of this comes through incredibly well.
Depth: There are aspects of the courtroom and Los Angeles that do a fine job of conveying the sense of depth that is nicely handled for this Blu-ray.
Black Levels: With a focus on interiors and some night time sequences, there are solid dark and inky black levels featured in this Blu-ray presentation.
Color Reproduction: Given the style of the series and the varying locations in and out of courtrooms, there are some key moments that play quite well in regards to the use of color, which is fine for a series like this.
Flesh Tones: Things like lighting, locations, and other aspects keep the characters in constant flux, but textures and flesh tones always come through.
Noise/Artifacts: Nothing of note here.
Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Dynamics: For a courtroom series, The People v. O.J. Simpson has a great number of different audio elements. The series has a lot going on in terms moments in the score, the action in the courtroom, and characters talking and yelling. There is a strong handle on the presentation that helps this all come together.
Low Frequency Extension: The LFE channel is given the chance to go to work at various times. This Blu-ray does a fine job of tapping into that aspect.
Surround Sound Presentation: The surround sound channels do their job in immersing the viewer throughout every episode. The ambience, score, and dialogue are all balanced quite well, making for a solid three-dimensional experience.
Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone sounds loud and clear.
Given the existence of ESPN’s 30 for 30 – O.J.: Made in America, getting more about the truth behind the series is not all that essential, when you can just look there. That said, as far as this series is concerned you get one feature that goes over what the series is about and a timeline. Not bad, but commentary tracks would have been great. Additionally, the slipcover has a foldout, with the inside detailing the entire timeline of the murder case.
- Past Imperfect: The Trial of the Century (HD, 29:00) – The filmmakers, writers and cast members discuss the event that was the trial of the century, as well as what the series attempted to tackle, given all the different angles there are to cover.
- Facts of the Case: An Interactive Timeline (HD) – This feature examines the entire timeline of the murder case, adding in various facts and clips from the series in an interactive feature, allowing the user to choose any point in time to look into deeper.
The People v. O.J. Simpson was a true surprise in its initial debut and it became appointment viewing during its original airing. Anyone interested should be satisfied with what this series has to offer at the least, as a great story is told with all kinds of additions to make it better than anyone anticipated. The Blu-ray set is short on extras, which is a shame, but you do get a solid presentation to really help out with observing how well-produced this series was. All in all, this is a nice package for anyone to check out with an interesting in crime stories.