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'American Crime Story' Finds Plenty Of New Material In 20-Year-Old O.J. Simpson Trial
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'American Crime Story' Finds Plenty Of New Material In 20-Year-Old O.J. Simpson Trial

Television

'American Crime Story' Finds Plenty Of New Material In 20-Year-Old O.J. Simpson Trial

'American Crime Story' Finds Plenty Of New Material In 20-Year-Old O.J. Simpson Trial
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American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson starts Tuesday on FX. NPR TV Critic Eric Deggans offers this review.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And the cable channel FX has found new drama in one of the most publicized trials in recent memory. Its series "The People V. O.J. Simpson" - "American Crime Story" debuts Tuesday. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans said the show about a 20-year-old trial brings a potent message about today's criminal justice system.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: FX's ambitious series doesn't even start with the 1994 murders of Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and acquaintance Ronald Goldman.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN CRIME STORY - THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON")

DEGGANS: It begins with the earlier riots that rocked Los Angeles in 1992 after four police officers were acquitted for beating unarmed black motorist Rodney King.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN CRIME STORY - THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON")

UNKNOWN PERSON: It's probably the worst case of police misconduct that I've ever seen in my 27 years of law enforcement.

DEGGANS: The explosion of mistrust and anger against police would be crucial to O.J. Simpson's defense, especially when Simpson's attorney, Robert Shapiro, played here by John Travolta, realizes how we can use that issue at trial.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN CRIME STORY - THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON")

JOHN TRAVOLTA: (As Robert Shapiro) Imagine that O.J. Simpson was set up by the cops because he was a black man and because the LAPD has a systemic racism problem.

DEGGANS: FX has crafted one of the best TV shows of early 2016 based on "The Run Of His Life," an extensively-reported book by legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. Toobin's long maintained that Simpson's guilty of the murders. And during a press conference for the series, he pointed out the irony of Simpson's defense.

JEFFREY TOOBIN: You have the paradox of an African-American community that has long-standing legitimate complaints about the LAPD which turn out to have an utterly undeserving beneficiary in O.J. Simpson.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN CRIME STORY - THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #1: (As character) O.J.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #2: (As character) O.J.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #3: (As character) O.J.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #4: (As character) O.J.

DEGGANS: The trial of O.J. Simpson, a football star turned TV pitchman and movie actor, was covered 247 by cable channels. In fact, it birthed the whole true crime TV industry. But "American Crime Story" executive producer Ryan Murphy and his team still found loads of stuff that people have largely forgotten or never knew. The performances here are amazing. Cuba Gooding Jr. is a ball of angry narcissism playing Simpson, and Sarah Paulson brings a wounded humanity as prosecutor Marcia Clark, who faced sexist insults for her appearance and underestimated the impact of race. But Courtney B. Vance steals the show as another one of Simpson's attorneys, the wily Johnnie Cochran. Here, Travolta's Robert Shapiro is trying to backpedal from using race as part of their defense strategy. Cochran set Shapiro straight.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN CRIME STORY - THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON")

TRAVOLTA: (As Robert Shapiro) I stand before you right now and say race has never and will never be an issue in this case.

COURTNEY B. VANCE: (As Johnnie Cochran) Bob, this is the United States of America, and we are defending a black man who is fighting to prove his innocence. But we would not be doing our job if we did not at least talk about how race plays a part in this trial. Now, if that is playing the race card, so be it.

DEGGANS: Unlike Toobin's book, the series doesn't take a definitive position on Simpson's guilt. But it does come close, with a gripping tale of how Simpson was acquitted despite a mountain of evidence against him. Simpson's acquittal also shows that police misconduct in one case can make it much tougher to prosecute every other case. Once the public loses confidence in law enforcement, every defense attorney can use that to defend their clients - guilty or not. Or to extend what Martin Luther King Jr. once said, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. I'm Eric Deggans.

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