Friday 24 November 2017

OJ drama for a new generation of viewers

Cuba Gooding Jr as OJ Simpson
Cuba Gooding Jr as OJ Simpson

The voiceover heralded American Crime Story: The People v OJ Simpson (BBC2) as "a new Monday night addiction".

Well, we'll see. Anyone over the age of 35 will recall being transfixed as the trial of sports and movie star OJ Simpson was televised live daily, ending with his acquittal in October 1995 for the murder of ex-wife Nicole and restaurant waiter Ron Goldman.

It was a case in which race played a major role, and this new dramatisation by Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story) began with footage of the Rodney King police-brutality incident and subsequent LA riots a couple of years earlier.

And then came the re-enactment of the Simpson case and all those names that were so familiar to us at the time: prosecutor Marcia Clark, here played by Sarah Paulson; defence attorney Robert Shapiro (John Travolta); hanger-on Kato Kaelin (Billy Magnussen); detective Mark Fuhrman (Steven Pasquale); and Kardashian paterfamilias Robert (David Schwimmer).

Some of the performers fared better than others in this opening episode - Paulson convincingly driven as Clark, Schwimmer persuasively bemused as the accused's loyal friend, and Courtney B Vance giving a bravura turn as flamboyant defence lawyer Johnnie Cochrane, intent on playing the race card. But Travolta was eerily robotic (botoxed?) as Shapiro, while Cuba Gooding Jnr's Simpson (inset)conveyed none of the likeability that had many people disbelieving his guilt.

It was all beautifully filmed in a sleekly anonymous fashion, but whether it will hold viewers' attention over 10 hour-long episodes is another matter, though its relevance in a currently race-torn America certainly should lend it a contemporary impact.

Certainly Happy Valley (BBC1) has impact and this week's second episode had many arresting moments, not least the attempt by the hapless middle-aged detective John Wadsworth (Kevin Doyle) to negate the threats by his former mistress, which ended catastrophically. How will he get out of this?

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