'American Crime Story: The People Versus OJ Simpson' debuted last night on BBC Two, and it was a television feast from beginning to end.
The powers behind 'American Horror Story', including uber-talented director Ryan Murphy, have applied their efforts to telling, in all its grim detail, the riches to ruin tale of sporting hero turned screen icon OJ Simpson, the murder of his beautiful ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman, OJ's fugitive sprint (not that speedy) along the highway in his friend's white Ford bronco, his trial that became must-see television for millions of Americans, and the suspense of a verdict, battled over by tireless lawyers on both sides that became household names on both sides of the Atlantic. All this, and a Kardashian connection... the story had everything, and the series makers have given it everything in return.
Just for starters, these are our five favourite things just from the debut episode alone, and the good news is, there are nine more to go.
Beautiful, leafy Brentwood, complete with leafy avenues where rich people walk their dogs, have their gardeners sprinkle their hedgerows and generally go about their money-making business. As the district attorney Marcia Clark reacts in astonishment when news of the double murder comes through, “Nobody gets murdered in Brentwood.” And, at the centre of it all, OJ’s stunning, classy mansion, where the police officers climb the gates, ring at the oversized door and can’t stop themselves gazing in ill-disguised awe at a god-like statue of the heroic former footballer that he just happens to keep in his garden.
John Travolta, David Schwimmer and Cuba Gooding Jr disappear into their roles with varying success
Even those these are familiar faces - David Schwimmer, John Travolta and Cuba Gooding Jr - somehow this doesn’t detract from the storytelling. In fact, with the whole OJ story so much larger than life, it somehow feels fitting that equally famous people should be involved in telling the tale. While David Schwimmer pretty successfully disappears into the role of brow-furrowed Robert Kardashian, John Travolta clearly does not manage the same with lawyer Robert Shapiro, but nevertheless steals the show, with his arm-folding, room-pacing busy-ness. And was that putty?
One in particular...
This actress, though, must get a separate mention. Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark is completely compelling, and a vital reminder that, amidst all the attention on OJ, this is a horror story with a despicable villain. She is the prism through which we remember that this all began when two young adults, one a beautiful mother of two children, and her helpful friend, where brutally slain as they went about their daily lives. Top marks, too, for starting the show with the horrible police beating of Rodney King, and the riots that followed, so we swiftly remember the socio-racial context in which OJ's trial was conducted.
Sarah Paulson is impressively convincing as the trial's chief prosecutor Marcia Clark
And, just when it was all getting a bit dark, with OJ cowering in the corner, gun to his head, at the house of his too-loyal friend Robert Kardashian, the latter begs him not to pull the trigger… “Don’t kill yourself, this is Kimmy’s bedroom!” Thus were we propelled back into the real world, where everything must be considered through a prism of proximity to the Kardashians. And to think, only 20 years ago we lived in a time when Kimmy was but a child, and nobody knew who she was.
Truth stranger than fiction?
The sheer macabre-ness of it all, courtesy of Cuba Gooding Jr’s all-but-toppling performance, culminating in his controversial attendance at his ex-wife’s funeral, defying the astonished glances, the whispers, to walk up the aisle and kiss his dead wife in full view of the congregation. Did real life really offer such a gift for future film-makers, or were all these real-life participants subconsciously signing up for their own part in one of the very first reality shows? It matters not. From the serious to the surreal, it’s an extraordinary tale, beautifully told.
'The People Versus OJ Simpson' episode 1 is available on iPlayer, and continues next week on BBC Two.