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 series
The 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