In the course of a week I watched two shows that premiered last year on FX and ESPN: The People vs. OJ Simpson and OJ: Made in America. The former was a fictionalized 10-part series by executive producer Ryan Murphy, and the latter was a 5-part documentary by filmmaker Ezra Edelman.
It was fascinating to watch because I remembered more than I thought I did. I was 10 years old during all of that chaos, and it was hard to not hear about the Bronco chase, the trial, the characters, and the verdict, even as a kid.
However, there's also the parts that I didn't understand then that are a bit clearer now, and I know that both television series helped educate me.
The basics were familiar: Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were found dead in Nicole's home, OJ jumped in a white Ford Bronco and rode down a Los Angeles freeway while helicopters chronicled his every move, the trial took forever, he tried on gloves that didn't fit, Johnnie Cochran said "If it don't fit, you must acquit," and the clerk said "not guilty."
I was reminded of all of those things and introduced to even more in the FX series. I didn't know that the Kardashian family was so connected to the Simpson family. I didn't know anything about Mark Fuhrman. And I didn't know about the history of domestic violence in the Simpson household before the murders.
The People vs. OJ Simpson started out with real footage of the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots after the police responsible were found not guilty. I was surprised to see that those shots were how they opened up this series, but as I continued watching it was clear that the conflict between the LAPD and the LA African American community played a huge role in the OJ Simpson trial.
The trial was full of mistakes by the prosecution and the police. The criminologists and the detectives tainted the crime scene, the prosecution put Mark Fuhrman on the stand, and prosecutor Chris Darden asked OJ to try on the gloves. All three of these mistakes were capitalized on by the Dream Team defense and made the jury forget the prosecution's stance: OJ had beaten his wife for a long time and ended up killing her.
The actors who portrayed everybody in The People vs. OJ Simpson did an incredible job. Sarah Paulsen as Marcia Clark was my MVP, as well as Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran. (No wonder they both won Emmys.) After seeing those people portrayed as caricatures for so many years, it was great to see that they were intelligent, real people who had triumphs and missteps.
Some of those real people were interviewed for OJ: Made in America, like Marcia Clark and Mark Fuhrman. I was glad I watched both series back-to-back, because it showed what parts of the FX series had been fictionalized, and what parts - however shocking - had been real! Both were wonderful pieces of filmmaking, and generally didn't wander down the gratuitous path. (Although sometimes the FX series spent too much time on the Kardashian family - we get it! They're involved!)
It took me a while to finally watch both of them, but I'm glad I was able to finally do it.