Mark Roman | April 5, 2016 | news
As a lawyer, I usually find TV shows about lawyers exasperating and un-watchable. Portrayals of lawyers and courtrooms which are designed to be entertaining are often ludicrous. If people’s perception of lawyers is based on what they see on television, it’s no wonder they don’t like us.
Given that, I’m pleased to say there is now a show on television about lawyers which manages to be entertaining, but also realistic, complex and nuanced. That show is the FX seriesThe People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. It follows the true story of former football star OJ Simpson’s 1994 trial for murder in Los Angeles. Simpson was acquitted after a lengthy trial of murdering his ex wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, along with a young man, Ronald Goldman.
Fortunately for the show’s makers, the entertainment side of this trial was always there. There was not a more sensational murder trial in the 20th century. It would probably be impossible to make up a story with more attention-grabbing elements than the OJ trial. All the classic stuff was there: race, domestic violence, sex, politics, corruption, media saturation – you name it. Millions of Americans were riveted by the trial, and the debate about whether the verdict was the right one continues to this day.
The show, however, does more than portray the circus atmosphere surrounding the trial. It goes deep into portraying the two principal lawyers on each side. On the defense side we have Johnnie Cochran, who sees the case as a racial takedown of a successful black man. On the prosecution side we have Marcia Clark, who sees the case as one of escalating domestic violence that lead inevitably to murder. Both lawyers are true believers, and the courtroom clashes between them are realistic and fascinating.
The People vs. OJ also does a good job of portraying the personal toll the lengthy trial takes on the lives of the principal lawyers. Clark, a single mother, fights for child custody while trying to deal with the ferocious time demands of the trial. David Kardashian (yes, of those Kardashians) suffers a moral crisis as he becomes convinced that OJ, one of his best friends since college, actually committed the murders. The entire defense team comes close to imploding again and again in ego clashes and debates over legal strategy.
During the trial, some legal observers accused Judge Lance Ito of being wishy-washy and failing to control his courtroom. The show portrays Ito more favorably. He comes across as a thoughtful, even-handed judge trying desperately to maintain control over a media monster. Even Ito ends up feeling the sting personally, when tapes of the notorious police detective Mark Fuhrman reveal Fuhrman’s contempt for Ito’s wife.
People in their 20s or younger won’t remember the OJ trial from when it happened. But they, along with anyone else who is interested in seeing serious treatment of a lengthy, high-stakes trial, should consider watching this show. The series is already deep into its run as this is being written. However, it is available any time on FXNOW, iTunes, and possibly other platforms.
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