Review: ‘The People v. O.J. Simpson’ revisits the N-word in ‘Manna from Heaven’

Senior Television Writer
03.29.16 58 Comments

A review of tonight's The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story coming up just as soon as I notice the smell of mint julip and condescension in the air…

One of the more impressive aspects of The People v. O.J. is how generous and empathetic it's been. There are certain figures from the trial – O.J. himself, Shapiro, the Kardashian kids – for whom the show can't really disguise its contempt, but for the most part it's dug deep to find the humanity inside all these characters whom media coverage of the case long ago turned into cartoons.

It looks at Marcia Clark and Chris Darden, for instance, and in no way excuses them for the blatant and easily avoidable ways in which they bungled the prosecution, but it also shows the many complications they had to deal with due to gender and/or race, the insane circus atmosphere of the trial, and so on. (The scene where Ito nearly holds them both in contempt of court was as electric as any the series has given us to date.) By the time we got to the moment where they apologized to each other for their respective screw-ups with Fuhrman and the glove, I was almost rooting for the show to take an Inglourious Basterds-style approach to history, not only for the satisfaction of seeing justice really served, but of seeing the two of them come out much better than they did in reality.

Similarly, the series has reveled in every dirty trick and shortcut the defense team used in service of their client, yet it sees Johnnie Cochran as something much more than a hustler. He wants to get that Fuhrman tape admitted into evidence not only because it would all but guarantee an acquittal, but because it shines a light on the racism of the LAPD that he's been trying to prove in this and so many of his other cases. He revels in the opportunity the tapes provide (even if he has to be amusingly rescued in North Carolina by F. Lee Bailey), but he's genuinely wounded when Ito rules to exclude all but a couple of sentences from the entire transcript, even though the world at large has seen and heard all of Fuhrman's ugly, ugly words. Johnnie's breakdown at getting the Ito ruling was one more great moment from Courtney B. Vance in a season that's been full of them.

For that matter, while Ito for the most part did a bad job controlling nearly every aspect of the trial, “Manna From Heaven” manages to find some sympathy for the guy as he's put in the impossible position of having to rule on tapes where his wife is mentioned. And the series continues to work wonders with Bob Kardashian in the back half of the season, here with his complete misery at realizing that an acquittal is likely, and that he'll likely be stuck with Uncle Juice in his life for some time to come.

Only one episode to go. We know what the verdict is, but I look forward to seeing how the show chooses to present it, and everything that happened afterwards. It's been a hell of a ride so far, hasn't it?

What did everybody else think?

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